I wasn’t feeling too good about this game until Steven Jackson’s first fumble. Shortly thereafter Jake Delhomme hit Steve Smith on the bomb and the momentum turned. His next fumble let the air out of the Rams and the Panthers running game kicked it up a notch.
Keys to the Game:
• Drew Carter (19 yds, 2 TD) was my MVP for his two TD’s, the second of which was a beauty. He got both feet in bounds as he fell and maintained control of the ball. This is exactly what the Panthers needed from Carter, a red zone threat and he delivered.
• The run defense held Steven Jackson to 58 yards, most of which came in the first half.
• Orlando Pace went out with a shoulder injury that resulted in more pressure being put on Mark Bulger from the left side. From then on he was rushing his throws the rest of the game.
• Once the defense started blitzing they made Bulger throw bad passes. Though the Panthers had no picks the Rams passing game was ineffective.
• Steve Smith was his usual self (118 yds, 1 TD). He TD turned the momentum of the game in the Panthers favor.
• DeShaun Foster had a good day (94 yds) and would have been MVP in my view if not for the fumble at the goal line. Overall the Panthers running game was effective and helped the Panthers control the ball. The only negative was that both Foster and DeAngelo Williams (62 yds) lost fumbles.
• Jeff King made some key 3rd down catches that kept drives alive
• The offensive line protected Jake very well and did not give up a sack
Other Players Who Shined:
• Kris Jenkins seemed to get stronger in the 4th quarter and laid a big hit on Bulger on one play
• Damione Lewis and Kindall Moorehead (1 sack) played well in relief of Jenkins and Kemo
• Otis Grigsby played well in relief of Mike Rucker and also put a big hit on Bulger
• Jason Baker averaged 51 yards on three punts
Players Who Need to Tighten it Up
• Justin Hartwig had two bad snaps and on several occasions got man-handled by the Rams rookie Adam Carriker• Kemo was getting blown back off the line pretty often early in the game
• As mentioned earlier, DeAngelo had a fumble. Certainly not the way to earn more carries.
Handing Out the Grades
• I give the offense an A-. The fumbles will always take a little off the grade as well as the bad snaps. Overall 27 points is a good day.
• The defense gets an A- as well. They only gave up 13 points to a good Rams offense. The only downgrade is lack of sacks (1) though they did get pressure and hits on Bulger.
• Special teams gets a C+. They gave up along return to Hall, missed a field goal and didn’t do much in the kick return game. They didn’t make mistakes though and Baker was sensational.
Overall it was a great start to the season. I feel slightly vindicated now that the Panthers won convincingly making my bold predictions seem valid for now.
Even better, since the Falcons, Saints and Bucs all lost the Panthers find themselves in sole possession of first place of the NFC South.
Finally, I'm so bad at predicting who will be the game MVP I didn't even include Drew Carter as an option in my pre-game poll below. There was one person who said "Other" so they may have been thinking of Carter. Congrats if that was the case.