Panthers cruise to eighth straight win, beat Bucs

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Panthers coach Ron Rivera knows when to hold ’em, and knows when to fold ’em.

The newly aggressive Panthers coach went for a decisive touchdown just before halftime, but kicked a field goal on a fourth-and-goal in the fourth quarter.

Both were the right calls, as the Panthers built a decisive lead, then were just padding it in a 27-6 thrashing of the Buccaneers.

The win was the eighth in a row for the Panthers, setting up an intriguing battle for first place in the NFC South with New Orleans next Sunday night.

They did it on a day in which things weren’t perfect. They still didn’t run it as effectively as they’d like, and they let the Bucs move the ball early. But Rivera has developed a feel for his team, and they’re playing with confidence even without some key parts.

The Panthers need to get defensive end Charles Johnson back for his pressure in the two remaining Saints games. But so far, their secondary full of spare parts has held. It will be tested next week as it hasn’t been, but they have surprised thus far.