You Carolina Panthers fans deserve this, you deserve yesterday's victory. While the team only moved to 4-8 on the season it represented far more than just a 4th win, it was truly indicative of the movement into a new era and to finally get out of the cellar in the NFC South; let's face it, its been a while. On the back of Cam Newton the Panthers and Ron Rivera doubled 2010's win total in dominant fashion.
It's easy to write off this team's success in 2011 as just last season's team with a new QB, but really the changes go much further than that. Yesterday we saw players who wouldn't have otherwise gotten shots under the previous regime step up and make plays. Guys like Greg Hardy, Thomas Keiser, Antwan Applewhite and Legedu Naanee were all integral in the victory yesterday, and none of which would have had a shot to play on this team a few years back.
Yesterday's game wasn't about those players though, it was about Cam Newton. A quarterback whose already placed himself inside NFL elite whether 31 other fan-bases want to admit it or not. We'll talk more about Cam and the rest of the Carolina Panthers...
After the jump
When Cam Newton lunged to the goal-line in the fourth period to rush for his third touchdown of the day he did more than seal a Carolina Panthers' victory, he sealed his place in NFL history. Newton broke Steve Grogan's record for rushing TDs by a QB in a season and didn't need an asterisk to do it needing only 12 games to Grogan's 14. This represented his second record of the season as he put together back-to-back 400 yard games early in the season to net his first record. Now Newton has his eyes set for two more records, Peyton Manning's rookie passing record which he only needs 442 yards to net the record.
It's also now within the realm of possibility that Cam could eclipse Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing TD record needing another 5 TDs to claim that crown. With 13 TDs in 12 games and 4 in hand it's entirely possible Newton's rookie season could become Canton-worthy, quite literally and without hyperbole.
Cam Newton, Extremely Optimistic Getting away from the numbers for a second lets talk about his impact on the game. The rest of the NFL world want to denigrate Newton's stats by chiding the Panthers for their lack of victories. When one watches the team you realize his abilities, that while he's currently still a rough, unpolished diamond and NFL defenses find it near impossible to stop him from shredding them. For a player whose yet to reach his potential this is extremely scary. There are still times he'll make you scratch your head, but overall he's utterly breath taking at the QB position.
Jonathan Stewart, Extremely Optimistic While J-Stew's first half of the game exceeded his second half he was dominant as a whole. 80 yards at 5.7 YPC and a TD really helped keep the Bucs defense off balance and set up Newton's option runs. It was beautiful to see and now Stewart is on pace for over 1,000 all purpose yards on the season.
Brandon LaFell, Extremely Optimistic I'm still not sure whether LaFell is a long term #2 receiver, but he has an undeniable knack for finding the holes in coverage at critical times to make mammoth plays. Whenever it's 3rd and long and hope seems lost Brandon LaFell finds a way to get open and make Cam Newton's life easier. When David Gettis returns (hopefully at full strength) it will be very curious to see how Rob Chudzinski uses them next year.
Charles Johnson, Extremely Optimistic While the stat sheet only reflects one sack and a few TFL the truth is that Big Money was flying all over the field and making a big impact on the game. At this point I think it's safe to say he's easily earned his major contract extension and when the Panthers finally reach prominence in a year or two I think he'll get the recognition he deserves.
Thomas Keiser, Extremely Optimistic As an undrafted free agent it's amazing to see what Keiser has been able to do in limited time. Yesterday it was more of a 'right place, right time' situation, but you can't really knock a guy for being opportunistic. He finished the game with a tackle, sack and INT... it was a great game.
Charles Godfrey, Somewhat Optimistic We know what kind of player Godfrey is. He'll still arm tackle, and he'll make you scream at times but his understanding and ability to dissect plays is great. Quietly he finished with 10 tackles yesterday and was playing up at the line of scrimmage a lot. It was a really solid game from him.
Captain Munnerlyn, Extremely Pessimistic Again Captain made some questionable decisions in coverage and had a big lapse in the 1st half that could have easily allowed a TD. I'm looking forward to the Panthers finding an answer at the position sooner rather than later so Cap can move back to the nickel.
Byron Bell, Extremely Pessimistic He's clearly out of his depth here as DaQuan Bowers dominated him at the LOS all day. I think the pie-in-the-sky dreams that he could be a long term answer at RT are gone. He doesn't have the lateral movement needed to deal with DEs with a quick first step, but I still see something out of him in terms of playing a guard spot in the future.
Jason Baker, Somewhat Pessimistic I know he was punting under duress for much of the day, but he still punted terribly on Sunday. As Jaxon mentioned in the open thread I think it's time to find an elite punter, and it so happens there are a few guys in the draft with that potential. I think it could be the time to pull the trigger.
The future is bright for the Carolina Panthers and they have a chance to do put together a few more wins this season. This would do great things for the optimism surrounding this team and keeping the winning spirit in Carolina.
70% Optimistic heading into next week's game.