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Newton continues to make it look easy

TAMPA, Fla. -- Cam Newton took the football from DeAngelo Williams after the running back scored a touchdown in the second quarter Thursday night and gave it to a fan in the stands. He did the same thing after Mike Tolbert scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

And when the Carolina Panthers quarterback scored a touchdown of his own, he made sure some fan got that one, too.

Williams joked after the 31-13 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that his biggest challenge of the night was having to fight Newton for the ball in the end zone.

But the symbolism here is worth noting.

This is not Newton's team, even though the first pick of the 2011 NFL draft is playing at a level higher than almost any other quarterback in the league right now. It's not Williams' team, nor is it Tolbert's.

"The beauty part about our team right now is we have a ton of guys that are leading the team, and everybody is starting to step up and enjoy that roll,'' left tackle Jordan Gross said after the Panthers' third consecutive win and fourth in five games.

At the same time, there's no denying it all begins with Newton. As Gross said after a 38-0 victory over the Giants a month ago, when Newton is hot, the Panthers are hot.

"That's more true now than ever,'' Gross said. "The thing that's great about him, I wouldn't even say he's necessarily been hot. He's just been good. ... He's just managing the game really, really well. He knows he doesn't have to do it all. He just does what's asked of him.''

He's doing that very well.

Newton had a passer rating of 111.6 on Thursday, completing 23 of 32 attempts for 221 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a team-high 50 yards and a touchdown.

Newton now has three straight games with a passer rating of better than 100 and three straight with a QBR of 85 or better that, according to ESPN Stats & Information, represent three of the best in his 39-game NFL career. And this one could have been even better had it not been for a few drops, including a deep pass to Ted Ginn that went right through the receiver's hands.

"You're going to win a lot of football games with your quarterback playing like that,'' tight end Greg Olsen said.

Newton, as he has been since this hot streak began, was at his best on passes of 10 yards or fewer. He went 20-for-24 for 171 yards and two touchdowns. He also was 11-for-15 for 84 yards and two touchdowns against five or more pass-rushers.

In other words, he really is hot.

But Newton, as he has throughout this streak, refuses to take credit. He says it's all about everyone around him playing better, and he's right about that.

"It's just up to me to make the right decision and get the ball in the people's hands that it needs to be,'' he said.

For that he does deserve credit.

He also deserves credit, or blame if you're Williams, for taking it out of people's hands after they score.

"I didn't want to keep it,'' Williams said with a laugh. "I didn't want Cam to take it, either.''