New era of Carolina Panthers football begins with 20-10 win over New York Giants

Ron Rivera's stamp on the Carolina Panthers left an indelible mark on fans as he gave us a glimpse of what his brand of football would be. Creativity was the name of the day with a variety of play fakes, reverses and blitzes keeping the Giants off balance for much of the night in all three phases of the game. The Panthers overcame an early Jimmy Clausen interception which was returned for a touchdown as Greg Olsen and Kealoha Pilares added scores of their own to secure a 20-10 victory. Despite being without 10 starters on Saturday night Bank of America stadium had a palpable excitement for this new era holds.

It seemed very apropos that all 20 of the Panthers points came off players who were not a part of the John Fox era. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Saturday's game is that there were no surprises; all the reports we heard from camp in terms of who was standing out, and who was lackluster all rang true as we saw a more confident Jimmy Clausen and an at times brilliant Cam Newton.

More after the jump

Clearly the big story line in tonight's game will be the tale of two QBs. Jimmy Clausen started with the first team, and despite throwing behind DeAngelo Williams which resulted in a Michael Boley pick-six, he was able to shake off the bad start as he rallied against a booing Bank of America Stadium crowd to find Greg Olsen in the end zone. Clausen looks far more comfortable under center than he did last year in Jeff Davidson's offense, however, he still has a propensity to leave the pocket too early and will need to learn to trust his offensive line more to give time for routes to develop.

Charlotte Observer writer Joseph Person described Cam Newton as 'uneven' on his twitter account, but I feel this one word assessment is a little too harsh. I didn't see much 'unevenness' in Newton's game. Yes, there were some throws he could have placed better, but really you could see the logic and thought process in many of his reads- they all made sense, and this was great to see. Cam had two good throws to the endzone that Brandon LaFell couldn't bring in, a bad drop by David Clowney, and a deep incompletion to Armanti Edwards who had the ball stripped after the catch. These plays, coupled with asking Newton to work behind the 2nd string OL for many of his snaps made it tough to evaluate the young QB. If we're going to characterize him as 'uneven' then it was because of the supporting cast around him as much, if not more, than Newton's play himself. Make no mistake, Newton is not there yet... but he's far closer than a lot of people may think.

There were numerous other good performances that I will discuss in the Monday Morning Optimist (Sunday edition) tomorrow morning, but a special shout out needs to go to Armanti Edwards who took the first steps towards proving his detractors wrong with two excellent punt returns, and one deep reception. 

Right now everything is coming up roses for the Panthers. They played a good game against a good team and did so without a great deal of their starters. 2011 is going to be a good year.

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