The Panthers (15-1) clinched home field advantage so they will not have to travel until it's time to head for Santa Clara and Super Bowl 50.
Panthers taking in-game team pictures. Guess you can when you're 15-1! pic.twitter.com/ZyS54NvTNl— Joe Mazur (@joemazurabc11) January 4, 2016
Carolina took care of business against Tampa Bay, despite being shorthanded. Running backs Jonathan Stewart and Fozzy Whittaker didn't play and neither did receiver Ted Ginn Jr. who's been dealing with a calf issue for a week. On defense starting safety Kurt Coleman, was out as well.
Trailing 3-0 early, the Panthers offense came to life in the 2nd quarter. Carolina marched down to the one yard line where Cam Newton ran for his 42nd career rushing touchdown. Newton would later tie Steve Young on the all-time list with a TD sneak early in the third quarter.
Newton TD on a straight sneak and now it?s reaaaaaly getting ugly. 31-3. I think the Panthers like playing at home.— Joe Mazur (@joemazurabc11) January 3, 2016
After a Graham Gano field goal, the backups stepped up. Rookie running back Cameron Artis-Payne danced in from 11 yards out. Then former N.C. State star Jerricho Cotchery hauled in a 31 yard strike from Newton, pushing the lead to 21 by halftime.
Just before the half, linebacker Luke Kuechly walked off favoring his left shoulder. That will be an injury to keep an eye on.
Kuechly is "probable" with a shoulder injury. Good news!— Joe Mazur (@joemazurabc11) January 3, 2016
It turns out the Panthers didn't have to win their last regular season game. 14 wins was good enough to take the NFC's top seed -- the Seahawks ended the drama by hammering Arizona in Phoenix, but 15 wins for the Panthers just sounds so much better.
Up next, a home game on January 16th or 17th. The road to the Super Bowl goes through North Carolina.
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