It was thrilling. It was scary. At times it felt like an impossible game. Then Cam Newton front-flipped into the end zone, stared into the camera with a smile and told us with his eyes that everything would be alright. The home opener against the Texans didn't start being the Cam show, but that's what it became and it's why the Panthers are 2-0.
What we're looking for in these early games is less about domination and more about improvement, which is what we saw on Sunday, particularly on offense. There's no tangible reason the offense should have improved against the Texans, a demonstrably better defense than Jacksonville had -- but it did.
Carolina gained almost 100 more yards of total offense, generated more through the air, averaged 5.2 yards per carry vs. 3.0 and looked more comfortable from top to bottom. Perhaps the most encouraging statistic for the future is the two sacks the Panthers gave up. It's the same number as they gave up vs. the Jaguars, but facing J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Vince Wilfork is night and day to anything Jacksonville could bring.
FINALLY we saw some receivers catch footballs. This is far from a finished project, and Kevin Norwood was the reason Cam Newton had an interception, but at least Ted Ginn and Corey Brown caught touchdowns when it counted. Credit goes to Mike Shula too, particularly in the ground game. For the first time in a while we saw creative and varied running schemes that put the Texans on tilt for much of the afternoon. They were consistently frozen by the threat of Newton on the ground and this had a trickle down effect that helped the rest of the offense.
In short: While the offense wasn't potent, it was better -- and this happened.
Getting Greg Olsen involved early and often provided the results we can expect from him. Speed on the edges allowed him to find seams, and Newton did a good job leaning on No. 88 when it counted. From top to bottom we saw Cam have less faith in his receivers, but this just meant he carried the ball more often instead of throwing dangerous ill-advised passes.
Early in the game I saw a lot of fans railing on Cam, and yes there was the standard compliment of "Start Derek Anderson" bullshittery. The Texans are not a good team because of their quarterback, they're barely a complete team at all without Arian Foster -- but this is still one of the best defenses in the NFL and Carolina hung 24 on them. Cam did all of this in one way or another. When you run for 7.6 yards per carry against a defense as talented as Houston's it says something. Newton made a statement.
What I liked:
Josh Norman -- Extremely Optimistic
Part of me wants to put this in the pessimistic camp solely for the realization that this dude is going to get PAID. While there wasn't a signature interception or big play, Norman found ways to make an impact throughout the day. Whether it was blowing up a screen play on the outside, or being in the right place at the right time to recover a fumble -- he was great.
Kudos to Sean McDermott for getting creative with him too. The were scores of times Norman came off the corner on blitzes, or showed blitz and fell into coverage. It was all part of the confusion game that helped throw off Ryan Mallett.
Cam Newton -- Extremely Optimistic
Like I said before: The Panthers won because of Cam. Deal with it. It's time to accept that he might never be a box score hero with the current players around him, and there will still be some boneheaded throws -- but he did extremely well against a really good defense.
Newton didn't play scared. That's what excited me. After his injury last year it felt a little like he was slowing down or playing cautious. Yesterday he went for it. I loved every second of it.
A.J. Klein -- Extremely Optimistic
Nobody had bigger shoes to fill than Klein. Heck, dude was filling in for Luke Kuechly. That meant not only playing middle linebacker, but being asked to do so much more pre-snap than he's accustomed to. It would have been forgivable if the moment was too big for him, but it wasn't -- instead he thrived.
This is about so much more than the interception, but that play was the back-breaker for Houston. Cam answered with a touchdown the next play and it ended up being the definitive defensive play of the afternoon. This is a guy who's worked hard for everything, and it's playing off.
What I didn't like:
Discipline -- Extremely Pessimistic
What a comedy of errors this was. Carolina gave up 92 yards on 10 penalties. Some were worse than others, Kony Ealy's roughing the passer could have lived in infamy -- but it was too many guys trying to do too much. The aggression was unchecked for much of the game and a better team would have capitalized on it. This needs to get better.
Heck, Cam had the ball snapped to him while calling an audible. He got hit with a false start. I've never seen that before.
Nothing else this week
There's no need to nitpick any more. A lot of players weren't perfect, but nor were they bad enough to garner this spot. Sunday was a learning experience. Let's see them learn from it.
The Saints are a dumpster fire and the smell is oh so sweet. New Orleans has lost six games straight. Core players are looking OLD and they're making a ton of mistakes.
Let's put this in perspective: The Saints just lost to Tampa Bay. Who got blown out by the Titans. Who lost badly to the Browns. That's a depth chart of suck that brings a smile to my face. With Kuechly back I have no doubt this will be a very good game for the Panthers.
Jameis Winston dominated them. Have fun with Cam.