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Bucs DT Gerald McCoy: Panthers QB Cam Newton is the league MVP

Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy believes Panthers QB Cam Newton is the NFL MVP based on his clutch play and ability to elevate his teammates. AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy casts his vote for NFL MVP to Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

“Because of what he does with who he has," McCoy said Thursday as he looked ahead to Sunday’s game against Carolina. “Besides (wide receiver) Ted Ginn -- and of course (tight end) Greg Olsen is a very good talent -- but when Kelvin Benjamin went down everybody was in a panic like, ‘OK, what are they going to be able to do now?’

“Well, the things he’s been able to do ... he’s got three different games with five touchdowns. That’s incredible to do in one season."

McCoy has been particularly impressed with the way Newton led the Panthers to wins over Seattle, Indianapolis, New Orleans and the New York Giants in the final minutes.

“Carolina has had their backs against the wall with the ball in his hands and he’s taken them down the field to win the game numerous times," McCoy said.

The Buccaneers held Newton to a season-low 124 yards passing the first time they faced him in a 37-23 loss in Week 4. But Newton rushed 12 times for 51 yards in that game, his fourth-highest total of the season. He also threw two short touchdown passes to Ginn as the Panthers took advantage of five Tampa Bay turnovers.

Still, the Bucs know the key to stopping Carolina will be stopping Newton, who gets the MVP nod from Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith as well.

“No one has played better than him," Smith said. “I’ve gotten a close-up look at him. It would not be a surprise if he’s the MVP."

McCoy also has been impressed with Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart, who may miss his third straight game with a sprained foot.

“He’s an extremely good running back," McCoy said. “Very physical, hard to bring down, can make every run, can catch the ball out of the backfield. He can make you miss or run you over. That’s hard to do.

“And then when you have a running back at quarterback, it definitely changes everything. When he’s in the game, they’re much better."