I sat at this computer 10 days after the new year started at a loss for words, after the Panthers fell in the playoffs. The dream was over as the Panthers met the buzzsaw, the annual buzzsaw for many teams in the Seattle Seahawks. Ten months later, I sit here dealing with the same struggle, only for different reasons.
After what appeared to be the same game the Panthers have played against Seattle for the past several years appeared to be repeating itself, it seemed all but a foregone conclusion that the Panthers would get their first loss this year. It was always the same story; not enough big plays, more mistakes than your opponent, and the supporting cast not doing enough. After Steven Hauschka put the score at 20-7 during the third quarter following a great play by Ricardo Lockette to steal a touchdown from the jaws of an interception, it appeared to be yet another hard fought loss for the Panthers.
And then the team responded. Instead of the same old formula, where Cam comes out and tries to rally back only to get sacked or throw picks, the team rallied. Cam helped lead the team down the field for yet another 80 yard drive, Jonathan Stewart punched it in for the second score. 20-14. Then Seattle came back and kicked another field goal. 23-14. Then Cam engineered another drive, and Stewart punched it in again. The team seemed so close, yet so far. And then it happened. When the team needed a big play, they finally got one from ole reliable Greg Olsen, catching the 26 yard TD pass with less than a minute left to put the Panthers ahead for good. After all the talk of not making enough big plays, the Panthers most consistent weapon made arguably the biggest play of the season so far.
And suddenly here we are. We've beaten our kryptonite, and we're 5-0. Still one of the NFL's unbeatens,
What we learned
- Luke Kuechly is still a savage: With a combined total of 14 tackles, he helped lead the charge to keep Marshawn Lynch below 100 yards rushing. He's back.
- The pass rush is just getting started: Say what you want about the Panthers pass rushing struggles, but the team stepped up without two of it's top pass rushers and delivered a four sack performance. You could see the hunger and ferocity on each play as they pinned their ears back and got after Wilson.
- This team can handle high pressure games: It was pretty clear that this game was different, and not just for the Panthers. These two teams don't like each other and it turned into a slug fest with lots of emotions boiling over. But instead of creating dumb penalties (like the 2013 team did in the playoffs), they hung in there and rallied back. This was an important game, to the fans and the locker room.
This Panthers team isn't finished yet. They have personified the Keep Pounding mantra and can hang with good teams in the NFL. While many "experts" are going to point to Seattle's recent struggles, this is largely the same team we've faced over the last few years and Jimmy Graham showed he can succeed outside of New Orleans. However Cam proved he can win the big games, even without his favorite target and one of the worst supporting casts in the NFL. Jonathan Stewart finally came out and made his mark as well. If this offense can continue to capitalize on the opportunities the defense gives it, watch out NFL.
- Cam Newton- he's been clutch all year and has won in spite of other players mistakes
- Jonathan Stewart- He finally made a mark on a game, and ran with authority against one of the better front sevens out there
- Greg Olsen- Started out rough but came through when he was needed most.
- The front seven- four sacks and barely over 100 yards, including 53 by Russell Wilson.
- Kick coverage- limited field position on several returns. Hopefully everybody remained healthy after a few of the nastier hits
I'm not going to nitpick too much here. Devin Funchess needs to be more consistent and get out of the growing pains, the offensive line allowed a few more pressures than you want. But this was a strong team win over a Seattle team they've been trying to beat for awhile.
The Panthers will look to Keep Pounding and keep this momentum going as they get Philadelphia in prime time next Sunday night.
Great win, I am personally very glad to have brought you this after my last recap was the divisional round loss to Seattle. It's gonna be a long season and the Cardiac Cats are back. Keep Pounding everybody.