The last two months has been extremely frustrating from both a fan and analyst standpoint. Every week the Panthers found new and creative ways to lose games. Some games were over before they ever really got going (entering into the game, the panthers were last in the league in first quarter points). Others were tight contests that the Panthers gave away due to poor decision making/play down the stretch.
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This game was like no other. The team got the coin toss, chose to receive and immediately drove 80 yards for a TD. Cam Newton was sharp out of the gate with a 5/5 drive and helped account for every single one of those yards. A New Orleans Saints turnover gave the ball right back to the Panthers in excellent field position, and (despite a poor throw by Newton on third down) the Panthers came away with more points—this time from Graham Gano. Being up 10 points was fantastic, but the specter of missing out on another touchdown cast a shadow over the early lead. Thankfully the Saints were in a giving mood, as Drew Brees threw the ball to upstart rookie cornerback Bene Benwikere. The Panthers quickly capitalized with another short drive, this time resulting in a TD.
CB Bene Benwikere Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
A scuffle ensued that gifted both teams a personal foul penalty, and subtracted TE Brandon Williams from the game for allegedly throwing a punch in the ensuing melee. The physical altercation would be the only time that the Saints showed any fight all game. Up 17-0, the Panthers controlled the game from start to finish. The run game was buoyed by Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert and a healthy Cam Newton. The zone read proved to be a devastating weapon against Rob Ryan’s defense. Moreover, the offensive line (much maligned all season) was great in pass protection (keeping cam Newton clean all game) and pounding the ball.
The team donning the Panthers colors looked like last season’s NFC South winner. The defense was stingy, only giving up a TD when the game was well out of reach. The offense was ravenous, scoring a total of 41 points. This team, the one that took the field in New Orleans, looked as dominant as any the division has fielded all season. I hesitate to talk of any postseason aspirations this squad may have (seriously, this team hadn’t won in over two months), but if this team can suddenly catch some sort of consistency, it’d bode well for all those involved.
Personally, I’m just glad to be smiling while writing a recap. It’s been awhile since I could say this and mean it: Go Panthers.