QBs looking to elevate Panthers, Buccaneers down stretch

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Cam Newton and Jameis Winston know there’s no surefire way for a quarterback to lead a team out of a funk.

What works in one situation may not necessarily be the answer in another.

Newton’s second-place Carolina Panthers (6-5) have lost three straight games following a 6-2 start, moving closer to the bottom of the NFC South than the top.

Winston’s getting another chance to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) out of the division cellar after spending a month on the bench because of his propensity for making costly mistakes.

“In the NFL, part of winning is not losing, not beating yourself,” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said, reflecting on Winston delivering his best performance of the season to help Tampa Bay stop a four-game skid last week.

“You have to just keep it simple,” said Winston, who lost his starting job after turning the ball over 11 times in 14 quarters.

The fourth-year pro said the difference during last week’s 27-9 rout of San Francisco was his decisiveness with the football.

“I’m thinking about one play at a time, one completion at a time, one game at a time,” Winston said. “It’s easier to keep it simple when you’re decisive, making quick decisions and getting the ball out of your hands.”

The Panthers haven’t won since beating the Bucs 42-28 at home on Nov. 4. Kicking woes factored in narrow losses the past two weeks to Detroit and Seattle, however, and Newton said he’s focused on the next opportunity to get back on track.

Win or lose, he has learned you give yourself 24 hours to get over the excitement or disappointment.

“You can either celebrate or sulk and sob,” the Carolina quarterback said. “After that 24 hours is up, let it go. That has been so helpful for me in my growth as a man.”

For Winston, Sunday’s game against the Panthers represents the next test in what amounts to an audition to determine if he’s Tampa Bay’s quarterback of the future.

The 24-year-old didn’t face the Panthers last time. He was benched after throwing four interceptions the previous week at Cincinnati.

Some things to watch when the NFC South rivals meet:

NEWTON LIKES WHERE HE’S AT

Newton said this week he’s playing the best football of his career, despite a three-game losing streak.

Newton has thrown at least two TD passes in 10 straight games and seems to be thriving in Norv Turner’s offensive scheme.

“I’m just feeling in control,” Newton said. “There are no question marks. My assuredness of every single play I know exactly what I’m supposed to do.”

McCAFFREY ON THE RUN

Christian McCaffrey last week became the first Panthers running back to eclipse 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in the same game. His 237 yards from scrimmage against the Seahawks were the most in franchise history.

McCaffrey had 157 yards from scrimmage and two TDs rushing in the last meeting with the Bucs.

Newton joked that you shouldn’t call the 5-foot-10, 205-pound McCaffrey “small,” because he hates being labeled a small back.

“C-Mac has defied all odds,” Newton said. “With C-Mac, he has always been a workhorse. He’s always been a playmaker. There’s no denying that. My thing is when you draft a person, is he comfortable with the game on the line?”

WHERE ARE THE TURNOVERS

Carolina’s defense has thrived on takeaways over the years, but they have been struggling in that area of late. The Panthers haven’t forced a turnover in the three games since they last played the Buccaneers. In that game they intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick twice.

EVANS VS. BRADBERRY

In the last meeting, Carolina cornerback James Bradberry put the clamps on Bucs receiver Mike Evans, holding Tampa Bay’s top receiver to one catch for 16 yards on 10 targets in a 42-28 victory at home.

However, Bradberry has struggled in three games since giving up big plays in each of those games in losses to Pittsburgh, Detroit and Seattle.

Bradberry is expected to draw Evans again.

“They game-planned really well,” Evans said. “Even though they’re a one-high team, it felt like Eric Reid was just coming to me no matter what. And then Bradberry was underneath just pressing. So, I’ve got to be better, more physical, faster and stronger, and I think I will be this time around.”

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