The Carolina Panthers are going streaking.
No first quarter offensive touchdowns allowed this season. Led at the half of every game this season. Started the last four games, 7-0. Scored over 30 points the last four games. And now they can add four game winning streak to that list.
For the fifth time in six games, the Carolina Panthers decisively beat a subpar team, scoring over 30 points in the process. Behind a not-so-efficient Cam Newton and stout Panthers defense, Carolina beat the Atlanta Falcons at home, 34-10.
Newton cooled a bit, but was still productive. He passed for 249 yards on 23 completions out of 37 attempts. He passed for a touchdown to Greg Olsen, and ran for another.
The defense remained stingy all day. After letting Tony Gonzalez destroy them in the first half for 5 catches and a touchdown, the Panthers defense settled down and became their usual ball-hawking selves. Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Drayton Florence intercepted Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, with the last by Florence being a "pick-6" and putting the game out of reach.
Also notable was the return of Jonathan Stewart, who had been on the PUP list all year, after offseason surgeries on both of his ankles. He showed good fight and burst up the middle, finishing with 9 carries for 43 yards, and 3 receptions for 22 yards. He looked healthy and picked up tough yards all day.
The Turning Point: With the game still hanging in the balance midway through the third quarter, Newton threw a quick pass to Brandon LaFell, who after fighting for extra yards, coughed up the ball and fumbled. Fortunately for the Panthers, the ball was bobbled by the Falcons and bounced right back to waiting hands of LaFell. What could have been a turnover turned into positive points, as Cam Newton ran the ball in for a touchdown on the very next play. The deficit after these plays would become too deep for the Falcons to claw out of.
The Good: The Panthers defense forced four total turnovers, two of them happening when it really mattered. Early in the first quarter, Kuechly intercepted Ryan’s pass to Tony Gonzalez, and the Panthers converted it into 7 points. With the Falcons threatening in the third quarter, Thomas Davis took a tip from Quintin Mikell and intercepted the ball. Later when the game was out of hand, Drayton Florence intercepted a pass for a touchdown, and Frank Alexander recovered a fumble that Mario Addison forced. The defense looked good (and should have been good) against a depleted Falcons offense.
The Bad: Box score observers will note another productive day for Cam Newton, but it was far from efficient. Newton threw high all day, most notably during deep throws on 3rd and short downs. He also broke his streak of turnover-free games, as he threw for two interceptions in the first half. One was a deep pass that floated on him that was intended for a wide open Ted Ginn. The second was a horrible throw that was at the end of the first half and prevented the Panthers from putting up points before the break. He did have two touchdowns to help his cause, but he was not exactly the player we praised the last three weeks.
Panthers Offensive MVP: Hard to give this to anyone else, but this one goes to Cam Newton. He accounted for 2 touchdowns, and gained 249 passing yards, 22 rushing yards. It was nice to see the Panthers win, even though he had an average day. His most incredible play was one where he evaded 3 Falcons defenders who had him dead to rights and converted a 3rd down and 12. He also would convert an important 3rd down and 9 on a QB draw. He is talented, that is for sure.
Panthers Defensive MVP: Thomas Davis continues to impress after coming back from 3 ACL surgeries on the same knee. Though a case can be made for Luke Kuechly, Davis shined with his 5 solo tackles and an athletic interception.
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The Carolina Panthers will face their biggest test of the season as they travel across the country to face the 49ers in San Francisco. The Panthers bring their four game winning streak, and go up against the 49ers’ own five game winning streak. This statement game could go a long way in determining the Panthers' place in the NFC playoff picture.