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Monday Morning Optimist: The Panthers dominated one of the best defenses in the NFL and also Joe Flacco

The Panthers put together the complete performance that they always had in them.

Baltimore Ravens v Carolina Panthers Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

That was the game that Panthers fans have been waiting to see. Cam Newton was sharp. Ron Rivera and Norv Turner were aggressive both early and often. The defense generated both pressure and turn overs. These are the Panthers that can make a run at the playoffs. We all knew the team had talent and we all hoped they would be able to put that talent together for a complete performance. That they did so is great, but not a reason for optimism. It was a confirmation of suspicion.

The reason for optimism is that their complete performance led to a 36 point game that saw the Panthers effectively running out the clock for the entirety of the fourth quarter. The question against this team was whether or not they could score enough points in a single game to keep up with the Kansas City’s and New Orleans’ of the NFL. Yesterday they did that against one of the top defenses in the NFL and still had time to tap the brakes.

The defense struggled on the first drive before forcing three turnovers and three punts to cap off one of their more complete days of the year. The offense also struggled on the first drive, as well as on their opening two drives of the second half, but otherwise kept the pressure on Baltimore the whole game. They rarely settled for less than a field goal.

The closest you can come to saying anybody had a bad day would be Eric Reid’s missed tackle on Alex Collins’ early touchdown run, Dontari Poe’s poorly timed sideline penalty, and Jarius Wright not catching a ball on third down that hit him in the hands. All of these mistakes were easily overcome by their respective units. That is the kind of team that Carolina can be. That is the team they weren’t against Washington.

In the waning seconds of the first half, facing fourth and seven and up 21 to seven, Rivera shocked the world by going for it. Not only was the play call not a half-assed draw play to Christian McCaffrey, it was a pass from back-up quarterback Taylor Heinicke. The completion and conversion on that play allowed Graham Gano to kick a 54-yard field goal and gave the team momentum to carry into the second half.

This is what I mean when I talk about the kind of team that Carolina can be. Their mistakes weren’t compounded from drive to drive. They scored and then they tried to score again, regardless of how their opponent was doing. Rivera has talked since he got here about becoming the team that “twists the knife” instead of the team that edges out close games. He is finally coaching with that philosophy and you can see the results.

I said a few weeks ago that I was done with Rivera. I argued that he was stuck in his old, fuddy-duddy coaching style and had given little evidence that he would change. After eight years, why would he? Yesterday was the game that I never thought I would see from him. The Panthers are prepared to be one of the most dangerous teams in the league, just like I am prepared to eat my words, if Rivera keeps this up for the rest of the season.