TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The downward spiral that has become the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' season might not yet have hit bottom.
Stagnant offense, special teams' miscues and a defense unable to stop Carolina quarterback Cam Newton put the Bucs in a hole early in a 31-13 loss Thursday night.
An efficient Newton threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score. The Panthers (4-3) won for the fourth time in five games following an 0-2 start. They've won three straight, with Newton throwing for 667 yards, six TDs and no interceptions.
"We had spies on him, but it's just a matter of keeping him in the pocket," defensive tackle Akeem Spence said. "When we got back there and we got hands on him...we didn't get him down. We were letting him escape."
The Bucs (0-7), one of two NFL teams yet to win, have dropped the first seven games in a season for the seventh time in franchise history. They've lost 12 of 13 dating to last year, and some fans showed up at Raymond James Stadium carrying signs and wearing paper bags over their heads urging that second-year coach Greg Schiano be fired.
Bucs offensive lineman Davin Joseph acknowledged changes were possible, but said despite their struggles the players were sticking together.
"I don't think the locker room is an issue," Joseph said. "I think guys are fighting. Plain and simple our careers are on the line — everybody in the building. I don't have to convince anybody to work hard. They're going to do it. We just have to all do it together."
Despite its offensive issues, Tampa had a flitter of hope trailing 21-6 late in the third quarter before a fumbled punt by Eric Page set up Newton's touchdown pass to make it 28-6 entering the fourth.
The Buccaneers continued to struggle and didn't muster their first touchdown until 2:53 was left.
Newton tossed a 1-yard TD pass to Greg Olsen in the first quarter and added a 3-yarder to Mike Tolbert on the first play of the fourth quarter. Newton had his way against the Bucs in between those scores, too, setting up a nifty 12-yard TD run by DeAngelo Williams and getting into the end zone himself with a 6-yard run midway through the third quarter.
The third-year quarterback completed 23 of 32 passes for 221 yards. He also rushed for a team-high 50 yards on 11 attempts.