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Panthers stay unbeaten with rout of Buccaneers

TAMPA, Fla. - Cam Newton had a lot to smile about.

Carolina remained unbeaten, the Panthers star threw for two touchdowns with no interceptions in sometimes sloppy conditions, and it sure was fun watching 255-pound reserve tight end Ed Dickson lumber down the field 57 yards to score after recovering a fumble.

"Just seeing the ball pop up like a greased pig, nobody really panicked because Ed picked it up mid-stride," Newton said after Sunday's 37-23 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "We've just got to work on him taking that car out of neutral when he's running."

Jonathan Stewart rushed for 8 yards before fumbling on the play, in which Dickson grabbed the ball in midair and took off for the end zone.

"In my 10-plus years playing football, I don't think I scored a weirder touchdown," Dickson said.

On a day when Newton posted modest numbers statistically, cornerback Josh Norman led a takeaway party with two interceptions - returning one 46 yards for a touchdown, and the other 34 yards to set up another TD.

The Panthers (4-0) forced five turnovers in all, including a fumbled snap on Tampa Bay's second play of the game.

"All losses are disappointing, but you shouldn't be getting beat that way," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said.

Winston threw for a career-high 287 yards and two touchdowns. But Norman picked off the young quarterback's first pass of the day and returned it up the left sideline for an early 10-0 lead.

Kurt Coleman and Thomas Davis also had interceptions for Carolina, which played without star middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who's sat out the past three games with a concussion.

"When you throw it straight to him, no matter how good they are, they are going to catch it," Winston said of Norman's first pick. "It's not like I got baited or something. I just threw it straight to him. Bad decision."

Newton threw scoring passes of 6 and 12 yards to Ted Ginn Jr. He had meager numbers, statistically, with 124 yards passing and a team-leading 51 more rushing, however the fifth-year pro had just one turnover - a third-quarter fumble - despite playing through intermittent rain showers.

Meanwhile, Norman was center stage again, a week after making a game-saving interception in the end zone against New Orleans.

According to the NFL, the cornerback became the first Carolina player to return a pair of interception for TDs in the first four weeks of a season. He's the first in the league to do it in the past five years.

The Panthers improved to 4-0 for the first time since 2003, when they began with five straight victories and went on to appear in the Super Bowl.

The Bucs (1-3) have lost five straight in the NFC South rivalry and have dropped 11 consecutive homes games - 10 under second-year coach Lovie Smith - dating to December 2013.

"It gives us confidence," Newton said of the fast start, accomplished largely without Kuechly and some other key players with injuries. "But through it all, we still haven't played the football that we know we're capable of."

Winston, the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, completed 26 of 43 passes and was sacked twice. He threw TD passes of 10 yards to Charles Sims and 6 yards to Vincent Jackson, who had 10 receptions for 147 yards.

Doug Martin rushed for 106 yards and one TD for the Bucs, who outgained the Panthers 411 yards to 244.

Rookie Kyle Brindza had another tough day kicking for Tampa Bay. He missed three field goals and an extra point during last week's 10-point loss at Houston and followed up Sunday by missing two more field goals and an extra point against Carolina.

"We didn't give ourselves a chance to win," Smith said.

"I just have to take care of the football, that's the main thing," Winston said. "You can't win a football game with five turnovers."

NOTES: It was the second time in four weeks that Winston's first pass of the day was picked off and returned for a touchdown. ... Bucs career TD leader Mike Alstott was inducted into the team's Ring of Honor at halftime. ... Brindza missed field goal tries of 29 and 3 yards, both with Tampa Bay trailing 17-10. ... Stewart rushed for 50 yards on 10 carries.

Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press

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