But another Panther is starting to steal them: head coach Ron Rivera.
Rivera and his "riverboat" ways came to the forefront again, and again his calculated risk-taking coaching style led to a Panthers victory, this time over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, by a score of 27-6. His gutsy call to go for it on 4th and 1 before the end of the 1st half proved to be turning point of the game, and would end up burying the Bucs.
But it could not have been done by the coach alone. Quarterback Cam Newton has been quietly and slowly staking his claim as the offensive MVP of the league. Along with his two touchdown passes, he again led the team in rushing yards. After a dismal first drive, his 56 yard dash in the 1st quarter was quite possibly the highlight of the game, and brought the offense back to life.
And lest we forget, the defense did it again - shut out the opposing team in the 2nd half. Their continued dominance ensured the game stayed out of reach of the Buccaneers after a comfy halftime lead. They also continued their streak of games with a takeaway, recovering Mike Glennon’s slippery fumble and intercepting his fluttering pass.
The Turning Point: Nothing gets the blood pumping of Panthers fans more than when Rivera decides to go for it on 4th down. None was bigger than the 4th down that preceded halftime. Already up 10-6, Rivera decided to go for it on 4th and 1 with less than a minute to go. His bravery was rewarded, as Newton ran the ball in for a touchdown, and narrowly avoiding a fumble. This 17-6 cushion would give the Panthers offense the confidence to dominate the Buccaneers defense in the second half. It would be a deficit and hole Tampa Bay would never recover from.
The Good: There are times when I get worried and think the Panthers will blow a game they should win.
Then I think, "Wait a minute. We have one of the best playmaking quarterbacks and a badass defense."
Every week when it seems like the Panthers will lose a game like they have the past two years, it seems like the Panthers can just ride Cam Newton and the NFL’s top defense o victory. Today’s game was no exception. When the Panthers started slow and even spotted the Buccaneers a 3-0 lead, Newton flashed his gamebreaking ability with a 50+ yard run and followed it up with a touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell. His hot streak would continue, converting a 4th and 1 at the goal line, and hitting Ted Ginn for a touchdown in the 3rd quarter.
The defense was every bit as good as they have been all year. After shutting out the Miami Dolphins in the second half last week, the Panthers defense continued their dominance of Florida offenses. Though quarterback Mike Glennon and the Buccaneers would threaten all game, a costly fumble and interception in Panthers territory would ultimately doom them. You can thank the usual suspects: Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, and Greg Hardy.
The Bad: As dominant as the win was, it was not mistake-free. Newton, despite taking over the game with his arm and legs, gave up two interceptions, and nearly fumbled at the goal line. Jonathan Stewart, who needed a big game without DeAngelo Williams, could only muster 33 yards on 13 carries. The secondary was gashed again by a deep ball, as a 60+ yard reception by Vincent Jackson was nearly touchdown, if not for the saving shoestring tackle by Drayton Florence. And the 3rd quarter nearly became the Bobby Rainey show, as he could not be stopped by the Panthers front 7, not matter how hard they tried.
Yes, this team may be in playoff contention, but there are still a lot of wrinkles they need to iron out.
Panthers Offensive MVP: Cam Newton. A 50+ yard run to jump start the offense. 2 touchdown passes. 1 touchdown run. Ho-hum, another dominant performance. He may be built like a tank, but he moves like a Lamborghini. Honorable Mention: Mike Tolbert.
Panthers Defensive MVP: Star Lotulelei. He may not have filled the stat sheet or got a turnover to his name, but his interior pressure was a problem for the Buccaneers all game. The lanes were not there for the Bucs to run, and his blowup of the Bucs O-Line caused Glennon to make a key interception. Honorable Mention: Wes Horton.
Panthers Who Starred: Mike Tolbert, Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn, Jr., Greg Olsen, Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei, Greg Hardy, Wes Horton, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis.
Panthers Who Struggled: Jonathan Stewart, deep pass coverage
Tweet of the game
GIF of the game
The Panthers have been on record saying that the biggest game is always the "next one." Well, none is bigger than this next one, as the Panthers go on the road to play their division rival for the NFC South crown on Sunday Night Football. Pending the Saints game on Monday Night, this game would pit the NFL’s hottest teams against each other with plenty on the line. It is as "playoff atmosphere" as it can get.
Stay tuned for more analysis...This is Now an Open Thread!