Buccaneers vs. Panthers: Monday morning report

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

This is a special time for a special team. Enjoy the ride.

There's a strange feeling surrounding the Carolina Panthers right now that can only be described as "faith." It's inconsequential what you believe in or for there to be any religious overtones to the word, rather it's an inalienable belief that this team can, and will win. It doesn't matter what's in front of them, they'll find a way -- it's a mood that hasn't existed before.

Carolina has had good teams in the past, even a couple of great ones, but there was never a single team you could comfortably hang your hat on and know they were going to come through. We've fallen for people in the past, so I'm not going to say "In Ron we trust," but it's wonderful to see Ron have trust in Cam Newton. This is the lost element in the whole "Riverboat Ron" persona, that it's less about having the guts to call a play on fourth-and-short, but rather having the confidence to put in all on Newton's back.

Other fanbases around the league have stopped joking, there's no more hubris directed at Carolina. Eliminated teams stare wistfully at this team's roster hoping they'll find their own Cam Newton, while playoff teams are scared. That's right, there's a degree of fear. Eight straight wins will do that, it sobers the strong takes and turns into respect -- and respect is fun.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will bounce back. They're a talented team under-performing, something we known all too much about in these parts. Mike Glennon is an exceptional rookie quarterback, he's just not ready to lead his team back from adversity. That will come in time, likely when Doug Martin has returned and the team is ready to rebound.

Glass half full...

It's so fun to see this team adjust on the fly and find go-to players. On Sunday it was Mike Tolbert, who took over for a struggling Jonathan Stewart and asserted himself in the second half. It wasn't a big time performance with 100 yards and a touchdown, but he ground out first downs when they were needed. For what it's worth I think Stewart was still banged up. He'll catch a lot of flack post-game, but I wonder if he would have played if not for DeAngelo Williams being out.

On defense it was Wes Horton's time to shine. In Week 12 we saw Mario Addison step up, and this time it was another rotational defensive end that found a way to generate pressure with Charles Johnson out. Greg Hardy played well, and now the Panthers are poised to get back Johnson for the most important game of the season -- this should be fun.

Cam Newton is so special. His presence is something that can't be quantified unless you watch every game, and his role is hard to understand without destroying your vision of what a traditional quarterback "should be." Often his legs are more dangerous that his arm, sometimes both work in concert -- but often they don't. It's about being okay with a sometimes-flawed gunslinger that will put your heart in your throat at a moments' notice.

Jake Delhomme did this to us too, but it wasn't the same. Jake heaved and threw deep, but you couldn't ask him to pick up third-and-short. Newton will, one way or another.

Glass half empty...

Are there things you want to see improved? Sure. Every team has those moments, but enjoy being a winner. This has quickly become a special season, and nit picking too much just spoils the ride.

Overall outlook

Bring it.

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