The Big Mo series highlights the plays (or series of plays) that had the biggest impact on swinging the Panthers win percentage as calculated by ESPN. In Week 10 a 4-5 Panthers team that just lost its starting quarterback went on the road to face the 8-1 Arizona Cardinals, who were also without their starting quarterback. Carolina came in as massive underdogs, took control of the game early, and coasted to a runaway victory:
Despite starting the game with just a 32% win probability, the Panthers jumped to an early lead and never looked back. Their win percentage was 95% by halftime, a feat that’s rarely accomplished in today’s NFL and even rarer with P.J. Walker under center. Here’s how the Panthers stole the Cardinals lunch money, gave them a wedgie, shoved them in a locker, and strutted away.
First quarter 13:41 - Panthers 0, Cardinals 0
Reddick’s strip sack sets up a touchdown (25% to 51% Panthers win percentage): On the third play of the game Haason Reddick strip-sacked Colt McCoy and Morgan Fox recovered at the Arizona 15. This huge play shifted momentum right out of the gate as Cam Newton would go on to hit pay dirt with a two-yard touchdown run and an early 7-0 Panthers lead.
First quarter 9:58 - Panthers 7, Cardinals 0
Panthers defense gets a stop on fourth-and-1 (50% to 76% Panthers win percentage): After the Panthers scored to go up 7-0, the Cardinals faced fourth-and-1 from their own 42. Arizona’s coaching staff decided to be aggressive early and went for it. Colt McCoy attempted a sneak but the Panthers defensive front pushed the pile backward. Jermaine Carter and Yetur Gross-Matos were credited with the tackle for loss and the Panthers offense took possession at the Arizona 41. The great field position led to a Cam Newton passing touchdown to Robby Anderson for a 14-0 lead and a 76% win percentage.
First quarter 6:37 - Panthers 14, Cardinals 0
Donte Jackson’s interception (67% to 76% Panthers win percentage): The Cardinals first two drives ended with a fumble and a turnover on downs. Their third possession ended with Donte Jackson picking off an errant pass from Colt McCoy. Arizona had driven to midfield for their first sustained drive of the game before Donte’s interception. Carolina’s offense delivered with a field goal for a 17-0 lead with just over a minute left in the first quarter.
Second quarter 11:59 - Panthers 17, Cardinals 0
DJ Moore gets 10 yards on third-and-3 (78% to 94% Panthers win percentage): With all of the huge plays that swung momentum in this game, let’s also remember the smaller plays that ultimately loomed large. Early in the second quarter Carolina had the ball facing third-and-3 from their own 42. P.J. Walker connected with DJ Moore for a nifty 10-yard gain to extend the drive. Carolina ultimately turned this possession into a 48-yard Zane Gonzalez field goal to push their lead to 20-0 and win percentage to 94%. It was essentially game over from there.
Big Mo MVP - Cam Newton
Was there any doubt? Cam comes home to Carolina during the week and with virtually no preparation time he produces two touchdowns the first two times he touches the ball. His celebratory “I’m baaack! I’m baaack!” after his rushing touchdown was iconic. He brought energy, confidence, and hope to a team that was on the cusp of falling out of contention and starting to look forward to next year’s draft. Welcome home, Cam!
What I liked
- Watching the impact Christian McCaffrey has as a runner. His vision, burst, and elusiveness are on a different level than almost any other running back in the league. CMC had 13 carries for 95 yards. Meanwhile, Chuba Hubbard and Ameer Abdullah had a combined 18 carries for 51 yards running behind the same offensive line and facing the same defense as CMC.
- Oh, and McCaffrey had 10 receptions for 66 yards. His routes are a thing of beauty. He’s basically impossible to cover.
- Matt Rhule and Joe Brady’s decision to deploy Cam Newton in short yardage situations despite his limited prep time. The safe thing to do would have been to hold Cam out until the following week. Rhule and Brady did the smart thing and deployed Cam where it made sense.
- Donte Jackson aggressively jarring the ball loose from Christian Kirk on third-and-10 to prevent a first down. D-Jax closed like a missile to break up that pass.
- Shaq Thompson timing his blitz to the millisecond and tackling Colt McCoy deep in the backfield before the Cardinals quarterback could even finish his play action motion.
- P.J. Walker’s overall competence (22-of-29 for 167 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception).
- Robby Anderson showing some signs of life post Sam Darnold (4 receptions for 37 yards and a touchdown).
- Joe Brady’s offense finally scored a third quarter touchdown! I can finally stop writing about the team’s third quarter ineptitude in this weekly column. Huzzah!
What I didn’t like
- Dennis Daley being flagged in the second quarter on back-to-back plays for holding (his second of the half) and a false start.
- Late in the third quarter the Panthers defense produced a turnover on downs and gave Carolina’s offense the ball near midfield. Two plays later, Chuba Hubbard lost a fumble when he didn’t secure what looked to be a clean handoff from P.J. Walker. Carolina was already up 31-3 so the game was out of reach, but it was a rookie mistake that Hubbard needs to clean up.
This was one of the most satisfying wins in recent memory. Seeing Cam Newton joyfully playing in a Panthers uniform was magical. Beating an 8-1 team on the road can give this team confidence as they look to hold on to a playoff spot. It’s incredible this is where the Panthers are right now. Just a few weeks ago this team had entered into what felt like an unrecoverable tailspin.
Well, they’ve recovered. They’ve got Cam and they’ve got hope.
Carolina’s next game will be against former Panthers coach Ron Rivera, former Panthers quarterback Taylor Heinicke, and the rest of the Washington Football Team. Washington is just 3-6 but are coming off an impressive win against the Buccaneers. This is a winnable game for the Panthers for a possible 6-5 record and sure footing in the hunt for a playoff spot.