The Panthers moved to 9-3 Sunday with their eighth straight win, a 27-6 manhandling of Tampa Bay that was close early until the Panthers began to dominate. Here are five of the things I liked the most about the victory, which included Brandon LaFell (above, celebrating) scoring the Panthers' first TD:
1) Riverboat Ron. I thought the key play of the game was when "Riverboat" Ron Rivera went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with 30 seconds to go with Carolina holding a 10-6 lead. No doubt Rivera would have kicked the field goal there earlier in his career and gone into halftime up 13-6. Instead, he goes for the jugular, Newton gets over the top a half-yard before fumbling and Carolina had a 17-6 lead and all the momentum.
2) Team defense. Even when the Panthers play badly on defense, they seem to have just enough to make up for it. Case in point: Drayton Florence gets torched for a 60-yard Vincent Jackson pass. But Florence manages a shoestring tackle at the Carolina 4, and from there the Panthers hold for two plays and Mike Glennon has an awful fumble on the third one. No points, and once again -- after yet another second-half shutout -- the Panthers will retain their overall No.1 rank in the NFL in scoring defense. The run defense was particularly effective.
3) Mike Tolbert. What a banger. With DeAngelo Williams out, he took a larger role and took the old Sam Mills motto ("Keep Pounding") to an extreme.
4) Ted Ginn Jr. He's seemingly good for about one big play a game, but what a big play it can be. Ginn's visit to Darrelle Revis's "Island" resulted in Ginn burning Revis for a 36-yard touchdown and putting the game out of reach.
5) A.J. Klein. Several times in this game the rookie linebacker looked so much like Luke Kuechly that it was tough to tell the difference. Some fans had to catch themselves as they started the old cheer of "L-U-U-U-K-E" after Klein's big sack of Mike Glennon.