What It Means
The Panthers won six games last season. They've already won five in 2017 and they're just halfway through the schedule.
Sunday's 17-3 win in Tampa didn't eliminate concerns about the offense, which didn't do much against the league's third-worst defense. But Cam Newton and Co. did enough with a 17-play touchdown drive in the first half and a 25-yard pitch and catch from Newton to Kelvin Benjamin in the second.
The story – again – was the defense.
The Bucs came in with the league's top-ranked passing offense and a franchise-best five-game streak with 300-plus passing yards. So the Panthers obviously did a remarkable job while holding quarterback Jameis Winston to 194 yards.
At 5-3, Carolina will next host Atlanta next week. The Falcons on Sunday improved to 4-3 with a 25-20 win over the Jets.
The Saints also won, beating the Bears, 20-12, so New Orleans still leads the NFC South at 5-2.
—Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was slow to get up after a play midway through the fourth quarter. He returned after missing just one play.
—The Panthers' opening score was their first touchdown in the first quarter since Week 1. That was a stretch of 106:26.
—The touchdown that capped the drive – Jonathan Stewart's 1-yard plunge – was the Panthers' first touchdown this season not rushed in or thrown by Newton.
—Christian McCaffrey's fourth catch of the first half catapulted him past Stewart (47, 2011) for most receptions by a Panthers' running back in a single season. And, yes, we're only just midway through McCaffrey's rookie year.
—With his strip-sack in the second quarter, defensive end Julius Peppers passed Hall of Famer Chris Doleman for fourth most all-time. Peppers now has 151.0 career sacks and 7.5 this year, giving him at least 7.0 sacks for the 15th time in his 16-year career.
—Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks dials up pressure on seemingly every pass play, but he has an especially good sense of when to send cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. Coming on a blitz early in the fourth quarter, Munnerlyn altered a Winston throw that landed in the arms of safety Mike Adams. That snapped a slump of 216 passes defensed without a pick for the Panthers.