The buzz was definitely back this week.
But it wasn’t the Charlotte Hornets we were talking about. It was the status of Cam Newton.
With limited mobility and the fear of re-injuring his ribs, Cam Newton sat out the 2014 NFL season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Have no fear, backup quarterback Derek Anderson is here.
Anderson led an efficient, methodical, ball control offense to a dominating first win of the season, 20-14. Anderson was 24-34, for 230 yards and 2 touchdowns, one to Greg Olsen, and the other rookie Kelvin Benjamin. He was only inaccurate on two throws on my count, and played tremendous in the absence of Newton.
Benjamin broke out in his own way as well, hauling a whopping 6 receptions for 92 yards. His touchdown reception was a beauty, as he carried his defender, fought through a pass interference penalty, and wrestled the ball away in the end zone for the score.
As for the defense? Business as usual.
Other than a gift touchdown after a bogus roughing the passer penalty on safety Thomas DeCoud, the Panthers defense held strong all game. The pass rush was unrelenting, the run game stifled, and every hit was bone-crushing. By my count, four Buccaneers left the game with injury, none on a dirty hit.
They were back to their ball-hawking ways of yester-year, notching two turnovers on interceptions by cornerback Antoine Cason and safety Roman Harper, and forced fumble by Kuechly.
Kuechly was my MVP, having a hand on two of the turnovers (he tipped the interception to Cason), collecting (only) 7 tackles, and one crushing sack. This from a guy that also quarterbacks the defense? I’m in awe.
Even head coach Riverboat Ron Rivera made a cameo. In the second quarter, Rivera decided to go for it on fourth down in the red zone in the second quarter. Anderson converted on a QB sneak, and led to a touchdown to Olsen two plays later.
Overall, this was an incredible, yet, not-surprising win for the 2014 Carolina Panthers. They won in all facets of the game, and could not find much to complain about. Not even the offensive line!
The turning point
The Panthers had this game on cruise control for 3 quarters, well on their way for a laughable win. Two touchdowns later, and the Buccaneers with the ball with under 2 minutes left, the game still hung in the balance. And all the late game collapse memories just kept rushing back.
Kuechly would have none of it.
On a dumpoff to Buccaneers running back Bobby Rainey, Kuechly punished the ball carrier, forcing a fumble that rookie Bene Benwikere would recover. Kicker Graham Gano would then sail one through the uprights, and the rest (and the game) was history.
The Good: Take your pick. Anderson in the "understudy" role leading an efficient offense. Rookie Kelvin Benjamin catching everything in sight and creating a highlight touchdown. Reliable Greg Olsen giving Anderson a safety valve and leading the team with 8 receptions. The front 11 (as I like to call it) not giving an inch for 3 quarters.
Save for a last gasp effort by the Bucs, Panthers fans have plenty to smile about. It was good. It was all good.
The Bad: One could be nitpicky about the offensive line or the secondary. But I’ll reserve all my judgement to the conservative play-calling of offensive coordinator Mike Shula.
I have always been torn on him; I hate his un-inspiring, boring, predictable play calls, yet the Panthers still win. They control the ball, eat lots of clock, and let the defense do their job.
But he might have cost them the game.
At the end of the first half, Anderson and the Panthers offense were driving, gaining yards in bunches. With 30 seconds left to go and in the Tampa Bay red zone, Shula decided to run the clock, run Tolbert for a draw, and take the field goal. It did not come back to hurt them, but it sure was on Panthers fans’ minds when the Bucs were driving at the end of the game.
I am all for ball control and winning the game by winning the clock, but some of his play calls really are head-scratchers. He called five screen passes on my count, and none of them worked.
It is much too early to throw him under the bus, but it something to monitor as the season goes on. His offense may be good enough to get the Panthers to a playoff game, but not enough to win one.
Panthers Offensive MVP: I’m going to be a softie and give a tie to Anderson and Benjamin. Anderson filled in admirably for Newton, even causing a QB controversy in some fans’ minds. I was not surprised that he did well, but mildly surprised that he shredded Tampa Bay with its new "Lovie" defense. He could not have done it without Benjamin, he caught everything his way and moved the chains. He looked unguardable today.
Panthers Defensive MVP: You could give it to the defensive line, but I will give to the big playmaker today, Luke Kuechly. Caused an interception. Force a fumbled. Sacked the quarterback on a blitz. On a day with minimal big plays, he was in on the majority of them.
Other Panthers Who Starred: DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart (even though the stats don’t show it), the offensive line, Charles Johnson, Star Lotulelei, Greg Hardy, Thomas Davis, Bene Benwikere, Antoine Cason, Kawann Short, Roman Harper, Thomas DeCoud, Brad Nortman
Panthers Who Struggled: Maybe it just looked like it to me (I’ll have to watch the tape), but it looked like AJ Klein was out of position on a couple tackles. He pinched inside on the 54 yard fullback run play. Charles Godfrey also reacted late on the first Tampa Bay touchdown pass. But I’m being nitpcky.
Notable injuries: None as of the time of this writing.
Tweet of the game:
LOL RT @_cdavey: Smhula— Edgar Salmingo, Jr. (@salmingoCSR) September 7, 2014
Following yet another screen pass call, I tweeted "Smh." Another fan took it to the next level.
Vine of the game:
This laughable pass attempt was the early turning point of the game.
GIF of the game
Kelvin Benjamin is good for "WOW" catch per game.
The Panthers have their season home opener next week, hosting the Detroit Lions. The Lions have not played yet as of the time of this writing, but the Panthers bring their impressive win and 1-0 record home against quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and a fearsome front line.