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Carolina Panthers fans have spent their Sunday mornings of the 2014 season discussing who has been in, and who has been out. Last week, it was a still-injured Cam Newton that was inactive that made headlines.
Today, it was the controversial sitting of Greg Hardy that burned up the Twitters.
But no matter who is in, our who is out, the Carolina Panthers have continued on their tremendous roll since last season. Their dominant defense paired with the return of Newton was too much for the Detroit Lions, as the notched a 24-7 victory.
This is the first time the Panthers have started 2-0 since 2008.
Newton picked up where backup quarterback Derek Anderson left off last week. Though he started slow, Newton finished 22-34, for 281 yards and 1 touchdown, and bullet to veteran wide receiver Jason Avant. He nicked up his ankle again, but did not miss a play. He was still able to gain 19 yards on the ground on 4 attempts.
How about that defense?
The stepchild of the defense, the secondary, would be the stars of the show. Cornerback Antoine Cason was impressive for a second straight week, amassing 10(!) tackles and two forced fumbles. Safety Thomas DeCoud, covering Calvin Johnson, had an incredible tip that would give cornerback Melvin White an easy interception.
And of course, the defensive line impressed again. Mario Addison, filling in for the aforementioned Hardy, finished with 2.5 sacks, while defensive tackle Dwan Edwards would get 1.5 sacks from the inside. There was pressure all game from the front unit, and Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had a difficult time getting anything going.
The Panthers look darn good to start the season. Beating a playoff contender in the Lions with the Hardy cloud of controversy looming was no easy feat. And for all the talk about Calvin Johnson, the Panthers contained him "relatively." With the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons losing today, the Panthers have the momentum and inside track to the NFC South crown.
The turning point
For as lop-sided as the final score is, this game was in contention for most of it. After the Panthers took an easy 6-0 lead into halftime, the Lions came roaring back on a fullback Jed Collins touchdown to take a 7-6 lead.
But the Panthers did not give up. Newton and the offense would get the ball back and get a touchdowns on a reception by Avant and an impressive run by Jonathan Stewart.
Longtime Panthers fans might expect the Panthers to come back and blow it. But it was the Lions who would sloppily give this game away.
On the ensuing kickoff, Lions kickoff returner Jeremy Ross fumbled the ball away to Panthers kicker Graham Gano, of all people. The Panthers would convert that turnover into a field goal, and seal the game for good. (Is that called helping your own cause?)
- Cam Newton started slow, as expected, but looked pretty good, maybe better than ever. He spread the ball around to 7 different receivers and was throwing rockets today. He took a few hits, but was still fine. He even gained on the ground and was juking cornerbacks. And best of all, no turnovers!
- Jonathan Stewart is back, ladies and gentlemen. He was not the best fantasy running back, but he sure was the best real running back on the field today. He only gained 37 yards on 15 carries and a reception for 22 yards, but he broke tackles left and right. His gutsy, barreling touchdown run was a clear indication he is back.
- Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery are pretty darn good possession receivers after all. They combined for 9 receptions, a TD, and a 2 point conversion. After dealing with drops from the likes of Brandon LaFell and Seyi Ajirotutu after all these years, it’s nice to have sure-handed pass catchers.
- Greg Olsen was his usual dominant self. Every time he was involved on a drive, he picked up yards in chunks and led to a score. He did not score himself, but he might have been the guy that helped Cam shake off the rust.
- Great job by the ENTIRE defense. The line put pressure on Stafford on all day, combining for 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and an interception. The linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly (had a forced fumble taken away) look vicious on every single one of their 23 combined tackles. And the secondary bent, but did not break, limiting household names Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Reggie Bush and Eric Ebron.
- Kelvin Benjamin had ANOTHER highlight catch, this time a one-handed leaping snare near the sideline.
- Props if you started Graham Gano today. He had 3 field goals with a long of 53, and a recovered fumble.
- Wide receiver Brenton Bersin was active for his first career game and caught his first career reception! Big fan.
- Running backs were at a premium, with DeAngelo Williams inactive, and Mike Tolbert and Fuzzy Whittaker with injuries. As I tweeted, how ironic is it that the only healthy running back left on the Panthers was Jonathan Stewart?
- Sure, the offensive line gave up some pressure, but they held up fine. The interior gave up pressure and sacks all day to defensive tackles Ndamukong "Don’t Call Me Donkey Kong" Suh, Nick Fairley, and C.J. Mosley.
- Ron Rivera lost a challenge early on a fumble (then called incomplete pass). In my biased opinion, it was a completed catch and fumble, but I digress. Rivera has a 25% success rate when challenge calls. Today was no different.
- Benjamin had an insane, highlight catch, but it followed an odd sequence where Benjamin dropped an easy pass. By my count he dropped three catchable balls today. He is a rookie, so he will make mistakes. Just glad he was able to make it up.
- Luke Kuechly was great today, but struggled on a drive where his bad angle led to a long run by Bell, and he missed an open field tackle on Collins to give up the touchdown.
- Cam is still the leader in 1) taking quarterback hits, 2) losing massive amounts of yardage unnecessarily, and 3) both at the same time. He still needs to knock the nasty habit of running backwards to avoid pressure and throw the ball away. Or duck and take the sack.
Panthers Offensive MVP: Tough call, but Greg Olsen is my MVP. The Panthers offense was steaming pile of hot mess until Greg Olsen literally took the ball and ran with it. He had more yard per catch today that I have seen in a while. He was nearly unguardable. His rhythm with Newton gave him the confidence to open up the passing game.
Panthers Defensive MVP: He gets a ton of heat, but this one goes to cornerback Antoine Cason. He did not have it easy with Megatron and Tate today, and he gave up a few catches. But if it was not for his forced fumble and tough play, the Panthers may not have a prayer today. He showed up big in a big game in a big matchup.
Other Panthers Who Starred: Stewart, Avant, Cotchery, Benjamin, Philly Brown (on a trick play), Colin Cole, Kawann Short, Bene Benwikere, Thomas DeCoud, Edwards, Addison, Davis, Kuechly, Gano
Panthers Who Struggled: On a first watch, it seemed that the interior of the offensive line really struggled with Suh, Fairley, and Mosley. Don’t know who to blame it on, but just know Newton had to scramble more than fans would like.
Notable injuries: Reserve running back Fozzy Whittaker had to carted off on a knee injury. Running back Mike Tolbert had an upper body injury, left the game, and came back. It was still bothering him.
Tweets of the game
How ironic is it that Jonathan Stewart is the only healthy RB left?
— Edgar Salmingo, Jr. (@salmingoCSR) September 14, 2014
A kicker just recovered a fumble. A kicker just recovered a fumble. A kicker just recovered a fumble. A kicker just recovered a fumble.
— SportsNation (@SportsNation) September 14, 2014
SBNation GIFs of the game
Kelvin Benjamin still has a 1 WOW catch per game average.
Even though he is a star, Cam never forgets about the fans.
The Carolina Panthers get the prime time treatment, hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football on NBC. The Panthers have a world of confidence and momentum, hosting a Steelers team that has looked pitiful in the last five quarters. Can the Panthers still shine when the bright lights are on?