I've been waiting each week to see when I'll have to write that first "welp, we lost" piece, and it still hasn't happened. The Carolina Panthers just keep on winning, a team that is far from perfect but solid top to bottom. Whether they win using Cam's legs or Cam's arm, the Panthers have won each week in the "old man" style of football; good defense and running the ball down their opponents' throats. Even without gaudy yardage statistics, the Panthers are one of the top offenses as far as points scored and they continued that streak today.
The Falcons deferred the opening kickoff, so Cam Newton and the offense came out and quickly made them regret that on the back of Jonathan Stewart, who piled up more than half of his rushing yardage on the opening drive before doing his best Superman impersonation and jumping in for the first score. After the Falcons gave the ball back to the Panthers at their own 7, Cam spit in the face of field position critics and flung a pretty one to Ted Ginn for a 74 yard touchdown. Ted Ginn would bring in another one on the next offensive drive, beating the Falcons secondary for a 46 yard touchdown. The Panthers continued to twist the knife with a touchdown to Ed Dickson, but the entire Panthers fan base would collectively hold their breath after Greg Olsen went down awkwardly on his knee the play prior. Thankfully, Olsen walked off on his own and appeared to be okay. After that, the Panthers tacked on another field goal and a touchdown run by Fozzy Whittaker to close out the shut out and clinch a first round bye in the playoffs.
- This is about the best kind of game you could possibly ask for from Ted Ginn. 2 catches, 120 yards, 2 TDs. In a perfect world the Panthers are really only targeting Ginn on deep passes and screen/catch and run plays, Ginn will continue to have a home here if he can win deep.
- 5 sacks total by the defense today, and a special shout out to Kawann Short. He now holds the Panthers franchise record for most sacks in a season by a DT, and leads the NFL in sacks at his position. His two sacks lead the team, and on both occasions he forced fumbles, one that caused a TWENTY SIX yard loss due to the way the ball flew out of Ryan's hands, and the other he recovered himself. Special year for a special player.
- Kurt Coleman logged his 6th interception in as many games, bringing his season total to seven. It may have been against the backup quarterback, but hey you can't complain about 7 picks from a free agent who wasn't supposed to start coming in.
- Derek Anderson came in to relieve Cam Newton for one play with the 1's and he threw a completion. The reaction by the rest of the team to this was absolutely hilarious. AJ Klein stepped in for one play to relieve Luke Kuechly and he forced a fumble. The depth on this team is outstanding, and they appear to be built to be able to go the distance if there's injuries.
I'm not even going to bullet point this section, the Panthers were firing on all cylinders as they blew the doors off the Falcons and sent them back to Atlanta without letting them into the endzone once. The biggest issue today was injuries. Greg OIsen appeared to be okay despite a bad landing on his knee, and likely would have kept right on playing were this a playoff game because THOR. Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis both caused some anxiety as well, Kuechly asked to come off the field because his ankle appeared to be bothering him and TD took a wicked shot to the head in a pile. Both returned and kept playing, both appear fine. Jonathan Stewart sprained his foot in the first half, not sure how bad that one is going to be yet but shouldn't keep him out of the playoffs.
However, the Panthers lost Bene Benwikere, who needed to be taken out on the cart. That one looked bad, and if I were to guess I'd say the Panthers will need to put some serious consideration into bringing another cornerback in for the playoffs. Charles Tillman will return to his outside spot while Cortland Finnegan will likely take over full time nickel duties. Finnegan's played really well at that spot.
Really what this all boils down to is whether or not the Panthers should keep certain guys out there. It is difficult due to the number of active players you can have on game day, but I seriously wondered about letting Kuechly go back out there after he came out to have his ankle retaped. I'm not going to tell that guy "No" though, no sir.
The Panthers head to New Jersey to play the New York Giants next week, where we will get to see another marquee matchup between Josh Norman and Odell Beckham Jr. The Panthers are 13-0, have three games left against teams with sub .500 records, and are two games ahead of the Arizona Cardinals for home field advantage through the playoffs. They just blew the doors off a divisional rival, and will get to see that team again this season.
Life is good folks. Keep Pounding!