QBs New­ton, Win­ston look to el­e­vate Pan­thers, Buc­ca­neers down the stretch

The Island Packet (Sunday) - - Sports - BY FRED GOODALL

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, mov­ing closer to the bot­tom of the NFC South than the top.

Win­ston is 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 over the ball 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 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 5foot-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 Pan- thers 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.”

AP writer Steve Reed in Char­lotte con­trib­uted to this re­port.

NELL RED­MOND AP

Bucs quar­ter­back Jameis Win­ston, right, didn’t face Cam New­ton, left, and the Pan­thers in their first meet­ing.

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