They didn't need any.
The Panthers spotted Tampa Bay three points but were spot-on for the next two quarters, reeling off 31 consecutive points to roll to a 38-10 victory that secured the top seed and homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
Carolina needed to win or have Arizona lose to earn the spot. Both happened, though the Panthers were unaware because the Bank of America Stadium video boards didn't provide score updates from the Cardinals' 36-6 loss to Seattle.
"I made that decision," head coach Ron Rivera said. "I didn't want to know. I wanted to make sure we were focusing on what we needed to do and playing the way we needed to play.
"I wanted our guys to play to win. I think there's some lessons in that."
The Panthers bounced back from what proved to be their lone loss of the regular season last Sunday in Atlanta to match five other teams for the second-best regular season record in the 16-game era behind only New England's 16-0 team of 2007. Of the five previous 15-1 teams, two won the Super Bowl while three fell short of playing in the Super Bowl.
"This is a very satisfying, it really is," Rivera said, "but we've still got a lot of work to do."
The Panthers have the advantage of doing all their work at home thanks to outstanding play in all three phases and a performance by quarterback
Newton completed 21-of-26 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another two touchdowns, tying a pair of NFL career records along the way. The fifth-year quarterback matched Steve Young with 31 games with at least one passing and one rushing touchdown and tied Young for most career rushing touchdowns for a quarterback with 43.
"Steve was always a guy I idolized," Newton said. "For me to be in the same talks with him, it's just a blessing."
Newton didn't do it alone. With Carolina's top two running backs –
"At some point, the narrative that we don't have a lot of good players has to come to an end," said Pro Bowl tight end
"Yeah, Cam is arguably the best player in the whole league, but we've got a lot of other guys who can play."
The Panthers took command with 24 points in the second quarter and capped the half with a key defensive stand. Newton got it started with a 1-yard bootleg touchdown to finish off a 77-yard march that featured back-to-back passes to Brown for 21 and 17 yards. After a field goal expanded the edge to 10-3, linebacker
"The offensive line did a great job, a great push, and (
"It was just a great throw and a great call in that situation," Cotchery said. "Then it's up to me to run a great route and catch the ball."
Tampa Bay, behind rookie quarterback Jameis Winston, threatened to respond by marching 78 yards down to the Carolina 2 with seven seconds left in the half, but the Carolina defense stopped two pass plays to exhaust the clock. Then at the end of Carolina's first drive of the second half – after the defense came up with another stop and special teams forced a fumble on a punt – Newton scored another 1-yard touchdown to make it 31-3.
"We took care of business," Newton said.