The aptly named Cardiac Cats are back.
With a porous offensive line and putrid defense that have been the whipping boys of Panthers fans, how did they do it?
Thank Cam Newton. And thank the defense for deciding to come back.
Newton had a gritty 19/35 passing for 255 yards and 2 touchdowns to tight end Greg Olsen. Despite the getting hit and a couple tipped balls, Newton shredded the Bears defense for chunks of yardage, averaging 13.4 yards per completion. The only thing that stopped him were drops from Olsen, Jason Avant, and many from Kelvin Benjamin.
The defense played "lights out" in the second half, allowing only a field goal and stuffing the stat sheet with turnovers. They forced two fumbles, thanks to Antoine Cason and Kawann Short, and Thomas DeCoud intercepted Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. This is the shutdown defense will all love and remember.
It was not the prettiest win, and it certainly does not inspire confidence in the most optimistic of Panthers fans. But on this day, at a time where the season was hanging in the balance, this was a great win that puts them in the driver’s seat in the NFC South, as crazy as that sounds.
The turning point
The Panthers came all the way back from a 21-7 deficit and tied the game up at 24-24. The Bears had the ball, the clock, and the offensive weapons to take the ball down the field against a shaky Panthers defense.
On the very first play after the game was tied, the Bears running back Matt Forte was stuffed by Antoine Cason. But rather than settle for tackle, Cason would wrap up and punch the ball out. Short would recover the ball, and the Panthers converted into a touchdown to put them up for good, 31-24.
Cam Newton. He is good. Darn good. He had plenty of time today and dissected the Bears defense for chunks of yardage. He may not be dynamite on the ground anymore, but he’s fireworks in the air.
The defense. How about that defense? Giving up only 3 points and forcing 3 turnovers in the second half on this Bears offense? Talk about getting your swagger back.
Antoine Cason. I tweeted this, but has any Panther had more HUGE plays than Antoine Cason? Sure he gives up pass plays and he’s not a shutdown corner. But in all 3 of the wins he’s forced or helped cause a turnover.
Luke Kuechly. He was everywhere.
The run game. Darrin Reaves and Chris Ogbonnaya were decent today. Sure, the Bears run defense is below average, but they took advantage. And they also kept the pass rush honest.
Injuries. For a moment, Reaves and Thomas Davis went out with injuries. Cornerback Josh Norman went out and stayed out of the game due to injury. Needless to say, the Panthers can’t afford to lose another running back and key contributors on defense.
Kelvin Benjamin. He had a few dropped passes and looked like a rookie today. He’s still a beast, and still will be a good player.
Panthers naysayers. Sure, down 21-7, there was very little hope, especially after the last two weeks of blowouts. Some said the season was over and could not wait for 2015 already. But they were made to look silly after a great comeback.
Offensive MVP: Newton and Olsen can share MVP. Newton willed this team back to victory. But he couldn’t do it by himself; Olsen was the reliable target that Newton trusted when game was on the line.
Defensive MVP: Another tie: give it to Short and Cason. Both had mixed results, but both made plays that tipped a close game in the Panthers favor. Cason caused the fumble that put the Panthers up 31-24. Short recovered said fumble. He also pressured Cutler into a sack, and stripped-sacked Cutler to end the game.
Notable injuries: Darrin Reaves and Thomas Davis left with injuries but returned. Josh Norman left the game with an injury to his shoulder.
SBNation GIF of the game
You have to see this punt return touchdown to believe it.
The Carolina Panthers face their stiffest test, hitting the road and taking on arguably the best team in the league, the Cincinnati Bengals. They take on yet another star running back in Giovani Bernard and star wide receiver in AJ Green. But this Bengals defense will be a handful for Newton and the Panthers offense. Let us hope these good vibes and win streak continues.
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