It seemed for a while that the Week 15 matchup between New York and Carolina would be an ugly defensive game. The sides combined for five field goals in the first half, but quarterback play prevailed. The Panthers are now 10-4, in command of the wild card, and waiting for New Orleans at home -- for the most important game of 2013.
Cam Newton has his shaky moments, but was largely sensational against New York. Look, his stats are totally skewed by the 72-yard screen pass -- but that doesn't really matter. Newton was threading passes all day long, particularly to Greg Olsen who has quickly become his favorite target. Brandon LaFell also stepped up on key occasions, and was instrumental in springing DeAngelo Williams down the sideline on the aforementioned screen.
One area the Panthers really need to improve is in the red zone. Carolina made five red zone trips and scored once, thank you Mike Tolbert. It was nice to see Ron Rivera continue to have faith in his offense and let them try to make plays, but they couldn't crack the Jets defense.
It's easy to try and write this off as "Well, the Jets are good" but it's concerning as Carolina approaches the playoffs. The game on Sunday shouldn't have been as close as it was, and better teams with halfway competent quarterbacks wont allow the Panthers to get away with some of the same errors.
Carolina will always have a chance when they can rush the passer, and it was nice to see them step up on Sunday. The Week 14 game against New Orleans was sobering in terms of seeing how bad this defense is without strong defensive end play, but the Panthers got pass rush from unpredictable places on Sunday. Captain Munnerlyn was used correctly as a multi-faceted joker, resulting in two sacks -- while Kuechly added another. Seeing three of the team's four sacks come from lesser-known pass rushers was fun to see.
Munnerlyn is often maddening, but he deserves defensive player of the week honors. It will be a crying shame if he's overlooked.
Glass half full...
Who is that— Chris Long (@JOEL9ONE) December 16, 2013
I can't be mad at you anymore.
The Saints loss turns the Week 16 game into the most important game of the year. Win and the Panthers are in control of the NFC South, lose and there's a chance Arizona could knock them out of a wild card spot all together. It's a scary proposition and the Panthers and one the need to be prepared for.
Controlling their own destiny is a common theme in 2013, now it's about executing on that promise. It's simple, beat New Orleans and take control. We believe.
Glass half empty...
The run defense (or lack thereof) was scary. New York was able to run for 157 yards on 28 carries, averaging 5.6 per attempt. It was most worrying to see Chris Ivory run all over the defensive line to the tune of 6.0 yards per carry.
Also, I know I'm not the only one that had a lump in my throat the size of a softball when Cam was writhing in pain on the sideline. It never really looked serious, but it was an all-too-scary reminder of how a season can change in an instant.
There's no reason to worry too much about the Panthers. They do need a win in Week 16, but it's hard to imagine a scenario where Carolina misses the playoffs all together. Yes, there are ways everything could collapse -- but we might as well take this one game at a time and see where the season ends up.
Newton is deadly, the coaching staff is confident and it's home sailing for one more week. The pressure is on New Orleans to show they can perform away from the dome.