Panthers vs. Vikings: Monday morning report

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

The Carolina Panthers can beat bad teams, now they need to handle good ones.

Wins are so much fun. This is arguably the understatement of the century, but there you have it. It's not just seeing the Panthers dispatch the Vikings 35-10, but seeing the players have fun, play for each other and most importantly, have pride in what they're doing.

Players played like they had a huge chip on their shoulder, and they needed to. Last week's game in Arizona was an example of everything that can go wrong for this team -- Sunday's game was the opposite. Players trusted each other, laid their bodies on the line in key blocks and supported each other rather than looking for personal glory.

Most importantly: The coaching staff got it, at least for one week. Not all the plays from Mike Shula were perfect and there was far too much short passing in the first half, but Ron Rivera continued to take risks on 4th and short situations and he was rewarded for trusting his players. The risks allowed Carolina to build momentum, something that has been sorely lacking early in the season.

Cam Newton deserves immense credit for fighting through the endless stupidity of suggestions he should be benched or traded by shutting up a vocal minority of morons. Bad games happen, it's the NFL -- he got some support from his teammates and looked like an All Pro, imagine that.

Glass half full...

This is the kind of win teams can build off. Superficially it was an impressive beat down of a bad team, but it was a sign that this offense can play for each other. Brandon LaFell showed what he could do when he's given the ball, and Steve Smith worked superbly well in small spaces. The running game wasn't amazing -- but it did enough to move the chains.

Carolina converted 58-percent of its third down opportunities.

Thomas Davis was sensational on defense. This was a day where the in-line pass rushers struggled, but he was a huge difference maker in every phase of the defense. His sacks were impressive, but his best play of the game came on one of Matt Cassel's first pass plays where he extended towards the sideline to bat the ball away.

Special credit goes to Ted Ginn, Steve Smith, and Mike Tolbert. The first two used huge blocks to allow big plays, while Tolbert was correctly used for the first time all season as the Panthers' bowling ball rumbled through a shaky Minnesota linebacking corps for two touchdowns.

Glass half empty...

Lets be real here. The Panthers are 2-2 right now against teams whose combined record is 6-17. Are we all of a sudden talking playoffs again? Seriously? Maybe it's time we learn from our mistakes as fans.

Kansas City is a team that has taken advantage of a soft schedule to remain undefeated. This Panthers' schedule has become very soft, and they still can't win reliably. Carolina hasn't beaten a decent quarterback yet and this makes the defense look so much better than it really is.

Cam Newton is great when things are going well, but this isn't when we need him to be great. Cam needs to step up when things aren't going the Panthers' way, in close games where he can't simply play from a lead and put his boots to teams.

The St. Louis Rams don't have the talent Carolina does, but they're infinitely better coached. They're an opportunistic squad that knows how to pick on player's mistakes, and has a great pass rush to boot. If you're looking past them too much then you should be prepared to be disappointed like you were against Arizona.

Overall outlook

Wins don't mean identity, and the Carolina Panthers still have no identity on offense. Each week they look like a completely different team, which isn't a good thing. Against the Vikings they used trick plays and short-yardage running to keep Minnesota off balance, which worked -- but it's still not leveraging Cam Newton to his full potential.

The busted coverage TD to Brandon LaFell really helped up Newton's YPA, but he was averaging just 6.5 before the pass. It's been proven that Cam needs to be up above 7.0 to win games, which he ended up in this game -- but not without a lot of help from Minnesota.

Hopefully the win makes everyone believe, and the loss to Arizona was standard post-bye Ron Rivera incompetency. This week the Panthers face a good Rams team, and it will be a huge statement game that should finally prove if Carolina has the mettle to make a run, or whether they remain one week pretenders.

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