There aren’t many Carolina Panthers fans that can honestly say that they envisioned the outcome of Sunday’s game, prior to kickoff yesterday.
The Panthers finally ended a winless drought that stretched over 63 days, and lifted many a fan’s heart and soul along with it. A broken down offense and shoddy defense, was nowhere to be found at The SuperDome on Sunday as Carolina kept its’ ridiculous playoff hopes alive.
Cam Newton looked like the kind of quarterback that most everyone thought they would see all year, and a Panthers’ running back eclipsed the century mark for the first time all season. Add in some emotional team support during an endzone fight, and brilliant playcalling, and you have the most complete game this Panthers’ team has played all season.
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This is the kind of report card that I’ve been waiting to fill out for nine weeks!
Cam Newton put up his most complete game of the season yesterday. The fourth-year veteran put up only 226 yards through the air, but also legged out another 83 on the ground. He tossed three touchdowns and ran for one, while not being sacked nor intercepted.
The amazing protection of the offensive line was able to keep Newton upright all day, as well as the time to complete passes.
Newton made the right reads and took off when he needed to, and even slid the proper way after a scramble.
His smile was back, his passionate play shined and he led this Carolina team to victory on Sunday. GRADE: A-
Jonathan Stewart was the man against New Orleans. From start to finish, he bullied his way to a 155-yard rushing day, including a 69-yard touchdown scamper.
Stewart got the nod in place of the injured DeAngelo Williams, and never looked back. He ran hard, with purpose and rarely went down upon initial contact. The Carolina running game also helped alleviate a lot of pressure off of Newton’s shoulders to do everything.
Mike Tolbert was a great lead blocker and even lassoed in two big receptions for the Panthers. Fozzy Whitaker was a good change-of-pace back when he was called upon to spell Stewart as well. A lot of credit goes to the offensive line for opening up such nice holes for the backs to run through. GRADE: A
Greg Olsen was the man on Sunday, catching 10-out-of-11 targeted balls. He finished the day with 72 yards and one touchdown.
Olsen though, continues to plod along, and is still in the thick of the Pro-Bowl voting for tight ends. His leadership this season has elevated his overall game on the field as well. GRADE: B-
Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
I would keep this short and simple, but I am so proud of this unit for their play on Sunday that I must explain.
Andrew Norwell and Mike Remmers look like starting-caliber offensive linemen, and manhandled the Saints in the trenches. Blasting open holes in the running game, and wisely guiding pass-rushers away from Cam Newton, these two players stood out.
Trai Turner and Ryan Kalil quietly had a phenomenal game as well. The Panthers chalked up 271 total yards on the ground, and it was due in large part to the play of the offensive line. I also love how the O-line stood up for their quarterback during the melee in the endzone.
If not for Byron Bell, I would give this unit a perfect A+. GRADE: A
Charles Johnson might not have blown up the box score, but he was pushing hard all day, and helping collapse the pocket on Drew Brees. He really needs a complimentary end opposite of him, but he is still grinding hard each week.
Kawann Short and Mario Addison recorded a couple of late sacks on Brees as well. The Saints’ running game was stifled for most of the afternoon as well, and Saints’ players were often being wrapped up in the backfield for losses.
Strong game for this unit all day. GRADE: B
A.J. Klein had a couple of good pursuit tackles and stood out for the first time in a while.
Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis weren’t in the spotlight very much, but still did a great job frustrating the Saints’ offense. Davis still owns Jimmy Graham and continued making big hits and plays against the New Orleans’ tight end. Not many defensive players can limit Graham as much as Davis does, so it’s good to see another strong performance from TD. GRADE: B
After the offensive line, this unit was my next favorite for the day. Carolina released Antoine Cason last week and the secondary definitely improved a lot. The secondary forced two turnovers on Sunday that led to 10-points for Carolina.
Rookie Bene Benwikere was all over the place and looked very comfortable in his first NFL-start on the outside. He and Josh Norman shut down the Saints’ receivers all afternoon. Though Benwikere looked like a natural fit for the Panthers in the slot, moving forward, I think he and Norman should be the starting boundary corners.
Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
You could tell Roman Harper was playing with a lot of emotion, and he spoke to it after the game. He probably played his best game of the season, and saved it for his former team. Even when he lit up former teammate, Marques Colston, he immediately went to him to assure that the receiver was okay. GRADE: A
I am still in awe today that this unit went out and had such a bad day. Was it Minnesota-bad? No, but it was pretty awful. Gano banged through two field goals and five extra points, but those were the only positives.
Horrible kick coverage (though no blocks) and nothing in the return game. GRADE: D-