Cam Newton was battered, his jersey torn– and he loved every second of it. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Good morning Panther Faithful! Oh how long it's been since I've been able to bring you a MMO following a regular season victory. It was that same sort of itch I can only fill two ways: A beautiful Panthers' victory, or sweet, sweet, black tar heroin.
There are defining moments for every football team in every season. For the Carolina Panthers, this was getting past Drew Brees and the soaring Saints. No, this New Orleans team isn't as good as they are with Sean Payton on the sideline, but they are still a dangerous team. Having the Panthers stick in the game for the entire 60 minutes, even when the Saints threatened to pull back at the end was a serious statement to their maturation. This wasn't just a game the Panthers needed to win, it was a game they were desperate to win– due to pride as much as anything else.
Now analysts will need to look for a new way to critique Cam Newton for this performance, because on Sunday he was stellar. This wasn't a bad team, this wasn't the close of a season with nothing to lose, and still Newton was the catalyst for so much that went right.
It was a dream game to diffuse the arguments of the fringe. Brandon LaFell was dominant, and had no problem getting open all day. Meanwhile Chris Gamble covered Marqus Colston like a blanket for much of the day, and Amini Silatolu looked like a completely different player on Sunday. It was a beautiful day to be a Panthers' fan, and a Monday morning at .500 is wonderful.
More after the jump
Brandon LaFell is one of the more subtlety maligned players on the Carolina Panthers. It's not that fans think he's bad, it's just that any compliments he gets are normally veiled in backhanded slights, and labored justifications on why he isn't as good as he looks. On Sunday he finished with six receptions, for 90 yards, and looked every bit like a receiver who has taken another step since last season. From year one to year two LaFell improved his hands, now in this next step he's becoming a complete receiver. His footwork is better, his route running is improved, and he has better awareness.
If you want another huge positive to pull out of the game it's the pass rush. Though the box score shows just one sack, it was really a game where the Panthers were consistently harassing the Saints and hurried Drew Brees on nine occasions. This couldn't have come soon enough, and while the Panthers gave up a ton a yards, they made enough stops to get the W.
Brandon LaFell- Extremely Optimistic
For all the reasons mentioned above, and more. LaFell was amazing on Sunday.
Cam Newton- Extremely Optimistic
Through the air, on the ground, and making the right decisions. Cam dissected the Saints' defense even in situations where plays were breaking down, and things looked bad. Newton showed a toughness, and a grit that was noticably absent last week against Tampa Bay. This was a great day for SuperCam.
Steve Smith- Extremely Optimistic
Smitty is awesome, and is always awesome. What more can I say here?
Triple Terror- Extremely Optimistic
It kind of kills those 'why did we spend money on 3 RBS' argument when all three score touchdowns. They were running the ball hard, catching out of the backfield, and overall looked outstanding on Sunday.
Defensive Line- Extremely Optimistic
They managed to generate consistent pressure all day long, and that is something we did not see against the Buccaneers. New Orleans have an excellent offensive line, and a quarterback who is gifted at reading defenses and making pre-snap adjustments, but it wasn't enough to stop an overwhelming amount of pressure from the Panthers. Frank Alexander was everywhere, and has shown a knack for blocking passes.
Brad Nortman- Extremely Optimistic
He was awesome... that is all. Seriously though, he punted long when needed, short when needed, and thus far looks to be a sage pick by the Panthers.
Offensive Line- Extremely Optimistic
Every player on the OL played great. Sure, there was an odd moment here or there, but overall each player proved their worth. The most welcome surprise was Amini Silatolu, who looked like an entirely different player on Sunday. Such is the life of an NFL rookie.
None... not a single one
What's the point of raining on a parade? Were there things to be improved? Sure... but overall this team looked absolutely amazing, and we should be overjoyed.
The Panthers and Giants have a really short turnaround to Thursday night football, and it will be an excellent barometer of where the Panthers really are. The Giants were getting dominated for much of their game against Tampa Bay, and with both teams facing the same competition we should really know who the Panthers are in 2012.