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Monday Morning Optimist: The Panthers aren’t dead yet

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The Carolina Panthers won their first football game of the 2019 season, without Cam Newton. And they aren’t done yet.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I’m at a loss for words for what I just witnessed.

The Carolina Panthers entered this game without Cam Newton, 0-2, coming off a brutal loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and basically grasping for straws to justify fans buying into this 2019 iteration. With Newton hurt and quite possibly as far away from his 2015 swagger as possible, walking into Sunday seemed like an execution. The Arizona Cardinals run more three or four wide receiver sets than any team in the NFL. They’ve thrown the ball more than all 31 other teams. This smelled like a bloodbath. And it certainly seemed like one as the game began.

The Panthers started this game as they have the other two games of the 2019 regular season: productive, until they hit the redzone. Kyle Allen got hit with a strip sack after a promising first drive, the Cardinals scored on a methodical 14 play drive, and there I was watching this game wondering what exactly I did to justify this eternal suffering.

But then, the Panthers fired back, with an 11-play touchdown drive of their own. But I wouldn’t be fooled. I knew better than to put my faith into this team, this was just a rare flash in the pan that didn’t leave me with burns. The teams traded punts, as we all expected, and Carolina had another chance inside of two minutes to (as we’ve come to expect) appear as though they were going to be aggressive and go for points, only to run the game clock out and jog to half time. Except... they didn’t.

Instead, Norv Turner drew up a play to capitalize on last year’s first round pick’s talents, and was rewarded with a 52-yard catch and run for a touchdown, which turned out to be the shot of adrenaline this Panthers’ offense needed. They went after the Cardinals for the remainder of the game, gashing out 24 second half points, as Allen looked nothing like an undrafted free agent from one year ago and this offense finally delivered on the flashes of promise we saw the last two weeks. The Cardinals did everything in their power on defense to make Allen win this football game and by God did he make them pay for it.

I don’t want to take anything away from this defense, or Donte Jackson and his two miraculous interceptions. But we knew this defense was good, and despite a Cardinals offense that initially kept them on their heels, they were still good.

This six sack performance didn’t surprise me. Making consistent stops in the redzone was basically expected based on the body of work from this season. What surprised me was the offense, and Allen deserves his due.

Allen didn’t come out and do just enough for the Panthers to win. Kyle Allen WON this football game. He was 19-of-26 for 261 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. This Panthers team tried very hard to make Christian McCaffrey the engine of their offense, and looking at the statistics alone you might be inclined to believe that he’s the reason the Panthers walked away with a win. But it isn’t.

McCaffrey made a ton of plays, but when push came to shove and the Panthers needed a good passing play, more often than not, Allen succeeded. And he showed us all why he’s the first choice opposed to Will Grier at the moment. He didn’t play well, he thrived.

This Panthers team seemed done for 2019, whether Cam sat out a week or the rest of the season. I had mailed in this season and devoted my time to making fun of the fact that Kyler Murray is physically comparable to a Corgi in regards to the other quarterbacks in the NFL.

Allen brought me back to caring. Because he showed me that this team can succeed without Cam Newton doing everything. They don’t need Newton to be the 2015 MVP that he was, and probably will never be again. They just need Cam to allow the parts around him to make plays, and while he’s unavailable, Kyle Allen has more than bought my faith. This team can succeed without breaking the back of their quarterback, and they don’t need one to drag them to success anymore.