The Carolina Panthers went out in Week 2, threw 51 passes with a battered Cam Newton in an uncharacteristic approach, and lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their own stadium. After a few weeks of sound Panthers defense, pounding the rock, and some heart-pounding moments characteristic of the Cardiac Cats during times of success, the Panthers came out and inflicted their brand of football (sans Cam Newton) and won.
The Panthers brand of winning football since Ron Rivera took over has never been pretty, as they run the football ad nauseum and play defense in a way that looks to capitalize on mistakes by the other team. It’s always been a conservative form of football, and it hasn’t always worked, especially in a league where being aggressive has tended to pay dividends. However, with Kyle Allen at the helm, the Panthers needed to lean on these philosophies, and they’ve executed about as well as one could ask. However, some deviation from those philosophies has been required for some time, and this week they managed to do that.
In this week’s game, the Panthers offense needed to find a way to win outside of Christian McCaffrey to be successful, and Norv Turner responded by allowing Kyle Allen to throw the football a bit more. We knew the Buccaneers would game plan to nullify McCaffrey’s effectiveness, and that forced the Panthers to throw the ball a bit more than usual. The Arizona Cardinals game aside (and their awful defense), the Panthers leaned on McCaffrey for offensive production, and while he still scored twice this week, his stat line wasn’t quite what we’ve seen over the last several weeks. Instead, the Panthers were forced to turn to DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel to deliver in the passing game, and they finally did after a bit of a rocky start. Moore led the team with seven catches for 73 yards, with a total of 86 yards from scrimmage. Curtis Samuel caught four passes for 70 yards and a touchdown, along with an eight yard rushing touchdown. Greg Olsen caught four passes for 52 yards. They pushed the ball down the field and showed a trust in Allen to make those throws.
This Panthers offense has been winning by turning in strong rushing numbers, but when the team could only average two yards per carry collectively, the other facets of this Panthers team needed to step up. The passing game delivered 227 air yards and two touchdowns, which isn’t top tier passing offense, but it’s the kind of performance that can win football games when you pair it with this surging Panthers defense. The team sacked Jameis Winston seven times, forced five interceptions, and recovered two fumbles. The scoreboard doesn’t show it, but this Panthers defense dominated a strong Buccaneers offense.
The reason why I mention these things is quite simple; it seemed like the Panthers were dead in the water once we learned that Cam Newton would be out for an extended period. While many will point to Kyle Allen’s win/loss record, in reality this team is delivering as a whole to keep the Panthers in this season, and right now they control their own destiny. For the first time in years, this team doesn’t have to put all of their eggs in one basket to win games. Kyle Allen has shown he can run and command the offense, and they can step up when Christian McCaffrey isn’t able to make all the plays necessary to win. The defense continues to make it extremely difficult for any offense to get in a rhythm. They continue to force turnovers, as Thieves Avenue is open and thriving once again. They look like the dominant defenses we’ve seen push the Panthers into the postseason.
For me, the optimism comes from seeing the Panthers deliver great performances from every aspect of the team over the last few weeks. While Christian McCaffrey should continue to be discussed as a potential MVP candidate, he isn’t dragging this team kicking and screaming to success. The Panthers are riding the wave of momentum created by some of his outstanding performances. The defense is playing confident, and we’re seeing a lot more aggression on that side of the ball. The Panthers continue to get it done, and I am really excited to see a healthy Cam Newton play with a team performing so well without him right now. But in the event he can’t come back following the bye, I am confident this team will have a plan and that Kyle Allen will continue to deliver the performances necessary to win. Now, it’s time to rest up and enjoy the victory.