TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -No more declarations about being the best team in the NFC. The surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers just want to keep on winning.
Josh Freeman threw two touchdown passes and rookie LeGarrette Blount ran for a score to lead the NFL's youngest team to a 31-16 victory over the struggling Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
Freeman threw TD passes of 8 yards to Arrelious Benn and 20 yards to Kellen Winslow. Blount rushed for 91 yards and scored on a 17-yard run in the second quarter as the Bucs (6-3) rebounded from a six-point loss to Atlanta that knocked them out of first place in the NFC South.
Cadillac Williams put the game out of reach with a 45-yard TD burst on third-and-10 late in the fourth quarter.
Rookie Jimmy Clausen made his fourth start at quarterback for injury-riddled Carolina (1-8), which got 100 yards rushing on 23 carries from fourth-string running back Mike Goodson.
Josh Vaughan scored on a 2-yard run and John Kasay kicked field goals of 46, 28 and 48 yards for the Panthers, who also drove to the Tampa Bay 1 in the closing seconds only to have Clausen denied the end zone on consecutive quarterback sneaks.
Tampa Bay started seven rookies, including Benn and fellow receiver Mike Williams, who also had a productive day.
Freeman completed 18 of 24 passes for 241 yards and no interceptions. Cadillac Williams gained 16 yards on a third-down screen pass to keep the clinching drive alive, then broke through an opening on the right side of the line and raced untouched to the end zone to end any chance for a Carolina comeback.
Already last in the league in yards gained and points scored, the Panthers played without injured running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart and simply lacked the firepower to keep up with a Bucs offense that's become more balanced since the 247-pound Blount took on a bigger role three weeks ago.
The rookie best known for punching an opposing player after a game when he was in college at Oregon, carried five times for 73 yards on an 87-yard scoring drive that Tampa Bay covered entirely on the ground. He broke runs of 12, 24 and 17 yards before finishing the drive with another 17-yarder that put the Bucs up 14-3 early in the second quarter.
Although Goodson had some success running the ball for Carolina, Clausen rarely looked to throw downfield and put pressure on the Bucs with the passing game.
The rookie's longest completion was 18 yards until Clausen completed a 24-yarder up the sideline to Steve Smith to set up the first of two field goals Kasay kicked in the third quarter to trim Tampa Bay's lead to 21-16.
Freeman reduced the suspense, leading a fourth-quarter field goal drive that Connor Barth finished with a 32-yarder that made it 24-16 with 10 minutes remaining.
Clausen was 16 of 29 passing for 191 yards and no interceptions. He was sacked twice.
Winslow had six receptions for 65 yards. Mike Williams had four for 68 yards and Benn finished with two for 29 yards.
The Associated Press News Service
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