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Carolina Panthers

Strickly Panthers: Naanee has a ball

!TAMPA, Fla. - Panthers wide receiver Legedu Naanee had been waiting a long time for a chance to throw the ball.

He had waited even longer for a chance to spike the ball.

Naanee saw both wishes come true in Sunday's 38-19 victory at Tampa Bay, tossing a pass to quarterback Cam Newton that nearly went for a touchdown while also scoring his first touchdown as a Panther.

"It's great to see that," Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said. "Legedu is a guy who does the dirty work – who runs crosses, runs through the middle and takes shots as well as blocking for us. He does so many good things, so it was good to see that."

On the Panthers' second drive, with Carolina already leading 7-0, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski called a play from Tampa Bay's 29-yard line that Naanee said had been in and out of the game plan for the last six weeks.

Naanne lined up on the right side along with fellow wide receiver Steve Smith and fullback/tight end Richie Brockel, and running back DeAngelo Williams went in motion and joined the trio.

Out of the shotgun, Newton quickly fired a lateral to Naanee, and the Panthers on his side pass-blocked long enough for him to launch it back across the field to a wide-open Newton, who picked his way down to the 2-yard line to set up his own touchdown run soon after.

"They hadn't seen that formation or that shift, and they couldn't really adjust to it too well," said Naanee, who completed a pass for 27 yards as a backup quarterback at Boise State in 2003. "We executed it."

Some Panthers thought it should have been executed even better, saying that Newton typically scores on the play in practice.

"One thing they're not thinking about is that in practice I can't get hit – that's why it goes for touchdowns," Newton said. "He gave me a catchable ball and put the pressure on me to make a play. I was expecting a touchdown myself.

"I told him that I was going to get him to the Pro Bowl with the highest quarterback rating – 1-for-1 for a touchdown. I guess things didn't work out."

Later in the half, however, Newton and Naanee did work together to reach the end zone. On a third-and-8 from the Buccaneers' 19, Newton zipped one in a small window deep over the middle for Naanee, who took a big hit but held on to push Carolina's lead to 21-6.

"It took a little longer than I expected, but it felt good to get one," said Naanee, who had another 19-yard catch in the second half. "Cam put it right where it had to be, and I just went and got it."

Chudzinski broke out another formation not previously seen this season, with Jonathan Stewart lined up at fullback and Armanti Edwards at tailback on a third-and-short, but the Buccaneers stuffed Stewart at the line of scrimmage.

Still, it could be a sign of things to come from Chudzinski.

"With the way our young guys are developing, it gives him an opportunity to open some things up," Rivera said. "There are a couple of things we've been looking at – I don't want to call them trick plays – that we can add to our offense.

"Anytime you throw the ball to your quarterback, I get nervous about it, but it was a well-conceived play called at the right time. It gave us momentum."

And in the big picture, Naanee sees the Panthers building momentum for next season after their second straight road victory.

"Our focus now is to finish strong," he said, "and not just for this year but to get that pace going as a team so that we know next year we're going to be in better position."

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