The Carolina Panthers are 6-3 for the first time in team history and it feels so good. Sunday's win over San Francisco proved they could hang with the league's elite. Now we dive into the player grades and it gives us a good sense where the team went right and wrong.
Whenever you see a close, defensive game it tends to benefit offensive and defensive line play. Skill positions can't really shine, and that's something to keep in mind as we look at the individual grades.
Travelle Wharton (+2.9)
It took a few weeks for the veteran offensive lineman to shake off the rust, but he has been fantastic over the last since returning to form
Wharton was key in holding the block that led to DeAngelo Williams' touchdown, the only of the game -- while also ensuring Newton was kept well protected. He allowed just one quarterback pressure on an afternoon where both teams were attacking the quarterbacks.
Greg Hardy (+2.1)
I really don't know if the Panthers have the money to retain Greg Hardy in 2014, but I'm going to enjoy the ride while it lasts. He wasn't credited with a sack from PFF, but hurried Colin Kaepernick four times and finished with two run stops against Frank Gore.
The completeness to Hardy's game is what's most impressive and it will be fun to see it continue.
Drayton Florence (+1.9)
Almost all of Florence's positive grade comes from pass coverage, where he was key in shutting down Mario Manningham. A lot is made of the pass rush on Sunday, but credit also need to go to the secondary that didn't allow receivers to get open. It resulted in a situation where Kaepernick had no options in the passing game, and it was fun to watch.
Nate Chandler (-3.7)
Full credit goes to Nate Chandler for being "next man up," but he was terrible on Sunday.
Chandler should probably get another start out of fairness, because starting against San Francisco is exceptionally difficult. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks had a field day against the young converted offensive lineman -- as Chandler allowed two sacks and a three hurries. This converted to over 25-percent of total pressures allowed, and that needs to improve.
Star Lotulelei (-3.4)
This was a brutal matchup for Star. He was forced to work against the NFL's best interior offensive line and its best North-South running back. Each game is a team effort, and Luke Kuechly was able to clean up -- but the defensive tackles struggled with Frank Gore for much of the day.
He finished with over 5.0 yards per carry, most of which were up the middle.
Jonathan Stewart (-2.5)
Perhaps it's rust, but Stewart isn't back to his self yet -- that much is clear. Against the 49ers he managed just 3.2 yards per carry and could have cost the Panthers the game when his heart-stopping fumble occurred in the fourth quarter.
It's too early to make knee-jerk reactions on him, but it will be interesting to see if this trend continues.