TAMPA – The Carolina Panthers have not been above .500 since 2008. 70 games, to be exact. George Bush was in the White House the last time the Panthers had a winning record. Quarterback Cam Newton was a sophomore at the University of Florida. Yes, it has been THAT long. But Thursday night, the Panthers, with a 31-13 rout of the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally got that elusive winning record (4-3).
Using the same strategy that has worked so well for the past three games,the Panthers won the coin toss and again deferred to the second half. This put their defense on the field going up against rookie quarterback Mike Glennon. The Panthers did their thing…and then it was the offense running the show.
The first drive took 15 plays, they went 70 yards and ate 8:52 off the clock. Oh, and the end result was a one-yard touchdown pass from Newton to tight end Greg Olsen and a quick 7-0 Panthers lead which they would not relinquish all game.
Newton was again efficient and accurate. He ended up completing 23-of-32 passes for 221 yard, two touchdowns, and, again, NO interceptions. He also ran for 50 yards and scored a touchdown. Wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. caught five passes, and dropped one that would have been a sure touchdown. Wide receiver Steve Smith had four receptions, fullback Mike Tolbert caught four out of the backfield including one for a touchdown and tight end Greg Olsen had a touchdown on one of his three receptions.
Defensively, linebacker Thomas Davis led the team with 7 tackles. Defensive linemen Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy rushed Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon effectively, sacking him three times during the game. Linebacker Luke Kuechly again had an outstanding game (when was the last time he didn’t?), making five unassisted tackles and assisting on three others.
Now the Panthers are off until Nov. 3 when they play division rival Atlanta at Bank of America Stadium.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:
Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross (one of nine players remaining from the 2008 team – the one with the last winning record, until Thursday night): “It’s been a long time since we’ve been in this position. Our next game’s in November against another division team (Atlanta). We put ourselves in a position where we’re in the mix, and that’s great. Guys in this locker room deserve that. The young guys that have never felt this deserve it. Coach (Ron) Rivera deserves it. The thing that I love is that nobody around here thinks that we finished anything.”
Gross continued: “I think you might have quoted me as saying, ‘When Cam’s hot, we’re hot,’ earlier in the year. I think that’s more true now than ever. The thing that’s great about him is I wouldn’t even necessarily say he’s been hot. He’s just been good – smart with the ball, running for first downs, diving on the ground, not taking as many hits. He’s just managing the game really, really well. I think he knows he doesn’t have to do it all.”
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, whose 1-yard touchdown catch started the scoring: “To come on the road and win on a short week and just handle our business is what good teams should do. Games in the past we would have let them hang close and made it difficult. But I think this is starting to show a new step that we’ve taken where we come out businesslike, move forward and get ready for the next game. That’s what the good teams do.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton: “It’s a relief in numerous reasons, but being (above) .500 is just a small percentage of it. We’ve got to keep meshing as a team, keep building off and keep getting momentum in the upcoming weeks because we’re about to hit the meat of our schedule and we’re going to need every single ounce of energy that we’ll have.”
Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano (whose job is definitely on the line): “We got licked. My hat’s off to Carolina. They played better than we did. They coached better than we did. That was the result.”
Schiano on his team’s 0-7 start: “It falls on me.”
Schiano on how the “Fire Schiano” billboards that have gone up in Tampa, bought by a radio station effect him: “Doesn’t effect me. People are certainly entitled to their opinion.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera on Ted Ginn’s drop of a potential touchdown pass in the second quarter that would have given the team a 21-3 lead: “He’s going to kick himself. He knows it.”
Rivera on his team’s transformation from a 1-3 start to being 4-3: “I never doubted this group of guys.”
CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers (3-3) didn’t take the bait. They kept their cool. Instead, they matched physical play with the frustrated St. Louis Rams (3-4) at Bank of American Stadium Sunday, winning 30-15. After a penalty-free first quarter, the Rams tried to flex their muscle and tried to intimidate the Panthers. But the home team played smarter…baiting the Rams into several costly penalties in the second-half. Some observers said they felt like they were sitting ringside for a fight. Bottles were thrown…tempers flared…and who really knows what happened under the piles?
Carolina won for the second week in a row – the first time they’ve had back-to-back wins in September or October since 2009. They are at .500 for the first time since Week 2 last season and can climb above it Thursday night with a victory at winless Tampa Bay.
Playing before an announced crowd of 72,686, quarterback Cam Newton led the Panthers offense with his arm and his timely running. Newton had nearly a perfect first-half, missing only one pass and he had one other dropped. Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn, Jr. and Greg Olsen led the receivers.
St. Louis came into the game with one of the league’s worst run defenses, but seemed to bottle up the Panthers backs at times. Frustrated in his inability to get into the end zone from the one-yard line twice, fullback Mike Tolbert was called for a penalty when “something” happened under the pile. The penalty cost the Panthers a touchdown, but Graham Gano, who was a perfect 3-for-3 in field goals today, connected to limit the damage.
But the Panthers controlled this game from the beginning. On the first offensive play of the game, Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn returned St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford’s first pass 45 yards for a touchdown. This was Munnerlyn’s fourth interception returned for a touchdown in his career.
St. Louis answered, sort of, ten minutes later, tackling Tolbert in the end zone for a safety. The Rams did have a time of possession lead for the quarter, but the tone had been set by the Panthers defense.
In the second quarter, Gano hit a 37-yard field goal, and the Panthers took a 10-2 lead. The Rams came right back, on a 15-play, 70-yard drive culminating with a 28-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein, cutting the Panthers lead to 5 points.
Not to be outdone, Carolina responded with a quick drive of their own – an 8-play, 80- yard drive ending with a Tolbert touchdown, bringing the halftime score to 17-5 in favor of the blue-clad home team. (Incidentally, this was the first time all season the Panthers have worn their alternate uniforms. They will wear them again in Week 9 against Atlanta.)
The Panthers received the second-half kick and ate 8 minutes and 14 seconds off the clock on a 13 play, 61 yard drive, ending with a 31-yard field goal by Gano. At this time, the Rams looked to be done…but they weren’t.
Following the kickoff, which resulted in another touchback, St. Louis went on a quick strike drive…3 plays, 80 yards resulting in a Bradford touchdown pass to Zac Stacy. And it seemed like the Rams were back in the game.
But the Panthers showed what they were all about, driving 72 yards on 8 plays ending with Newton passing to Smith for the best touchdown of the day. The veteran wide receiver caught the pass several yards short of the goal line, juked twice and faked two defensive backs out to score. It was his 800th career reception.
Going into the final quarter, the Panthers showed they would be physical and would not be intimidated by the Rams. They led 27-12, and dominated the time of possession in the third quarter. They controlled the ball for 13:17 of that quarter and set the tone for the rest of the game.
Overall, this was one of the best games played by the Panthers. They dominated many aspects – line play, quarterback play and defensively. They were able to get into the Rams’ heads a bit, drawing penalties against St. Louis that disrupted several offensive sequences. They knocked Rams quarterback Sam Bradford out of the game (report: torn ACL; done for the season) and defensive end Chris Long was ejected for punching Panthers right guard Chris Scott in the third quarter. As he was leaving, a fan toss an aluminum bottle at him on his way to the tunnel. And, they out-coached the Rams. And that’s saying something. Jeff Fisher is known as a smart coach who enjoys the physical aspect of the game.
The Panthers expected the kind of chippy play from the Rams, the league’s most penalized team in 2012. They did complain about cheap shots taken at middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and at Newton.
On the second drive of the second half, Newton took a real shot from defensive end Robert Quinn, and was taken out of the game for one play. When he returned, left tackle Jordan Gross locked up with Quinn, triggering a melee that ended with Long taking a swing at Scott.
“My job is to protect the quarterback. I felt like he took a shot at him,” Gross said of Quinn. “It was legal, but I didn’t think it was the right thing to do.”
Newton said Quinn also had some “explicit” words for him after the hit, which angered the Panthers. Long suggested he happened to be the player in the scrum who got caught.
“You know how that goes. They’re always going to get the second guy, so I need to be smarter than that,” Long said. “I play this game with a lot of emotion. I won’t change that, but there has to be a point where I can reel it in and I can’t let people provoke me.”
Offensively, Newton ended up with his best game of the season. He was 15-of-17 passing for 204 yards and had a 136.3 quarterback rating. Smitty caught 5 passes for 69 yards and 1 touchdown. Olsen caught 4 for 47 and LaFell was 3 for 35. Ted Ginn, Jr., who continues to impress, caught 2 for 34 yards and running back DeAngelo Williams caught a screen pass out of the backfield for 19 yards…just when you thought the Panthers did not know what a screen pass was.
Defensively, Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis again had an outstanding game. He had 3 tackles and 6 assists. Free safety Mike Mitchell had 8 tackles. Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei contributed 4 tackles and 2 assists, and Captain had 2 tackles, 3 assists, one interception for a touchdown and recovered a fumble.
The Panthers will play Thursday night at Tampa Bay, and coming off this physical game, they seem to be in good shape. A short turnaround, though, is always tough…on everyone. Several coaches said they would not be going home Sunday night, as they need to continue to game-plan for Thursday’s contest.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera: “The play calling on both sides of the ball was outstanding. (Offensively) we’re taking the pressure off the quarterback and giving him time to make plays. Cam had a 136.3 quarterback rating. I was very impressed with our guys up there today. (Kawann) Short and Star Lotulelei both played a heck of a football game. Those two young guys are really coming along, and because of that you see that (linebacker) Luke Kuechly isn’t making as many plays. It’s to Luke’s detriment but to our benefit. I believe Luke would take that any day of the week. This was a very physical bunch we played against and I was happy with the way we played.”
The coach said he thought his team kept its cool for the most part, but “at the same time you only want to take so much.”
Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross on one word to describe the game and what it meant: Relevance. We could actually be relevant.” He continued, talking about the physical play during the game: “Coincidentally, every time I’ve played one of (Jeff Fisher’s) teams, they’ve been like that. They show that on film. Especially defensively, they’ve got good young players and a lot of times when you face good young players, comes that certain chippiness.”
Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn on his first-play-of-the-game interception: “I can’t take credit for it. Quintin Mikell made that play. He hit the arm of Sam Bradford and it was like a punt return to me. It was floating in the air, I ended up catching it, picking it up and taking it to the house.”
Panthers free safety Mike Mitchell: “We’re not out here to do anything else besides play hard football. If you don’t want to play hard, physical football, don’t come out here. That’s what we’re here to do. If you’ve got the ball, we’re going to hit you within the confines and rules of the game. I thought they lost their composure.” Mitchell, avoided getting a penalty Sunday, but did get into repeated confrontations with St. Louis offensive guard Harvey Dahl, who got two of them: “They wanted to try to pick a fight with us. But they had four quarters to do that so waiting until the last couple of minutes – it’s a little late for that. … When he (Dahl) came back at me again, for the third time, that’s when I was like, ‘C’mon, dude, you’re a joke. We’re blowing your team out. Get out of our face.’”
Panthers tight end Ben Hartsock: “I played on Jeff Fisher’s teams in Tennessee. He’s a tough guy. That’s what his teams do. I played for Ohio State, and this felt like an old Ohio State-Michigan game – a backyard brawl.”
Panthers receiver Steve Smith was furious at St. Louis cornerback Janoris Jenkins, whom he said had learned his wife’s name and repeatedly talked about her: “He thinks he’s Deion (Sanders). He’s not.” And Smith had a lot more to say…
Below is the transcript from Smith’s post-game interview:
Take us through the touchdown, looks like you made some guys missed. “I’ll let Janoris Jenkins go over it on film on Monday.”
Did you point to him? “Yes, I directly pointed to him.”
Did you think you’d get a taunting penalty? “Don’t give a damn.”
What was the dance you did? “Well he thinks he’s Deion (Sanders). He’s not.”
To get your 800th catch against him… “He’s just another notch on the bedpost. That’s 800. He ain’t no different.”
For your 800th to be a touchdown, what’s that mean to you? “Just another dude.”
Did you have any run-ins with him before? “No. What I don’t like is a young guy, comes in, obviously his first time ever using the internet and Google, and he Googles information about me, talks about my wife and stuff like that. That’s kind of some of the (B.S). I just don’t play with.”
What specifically was he saying? “That’s all I’m going to say. I don’t play them games. When you try to take it personal like that, I don’t have any great humbling things to say. So he can take his (butt) back to St. Louis and watch the (expletive) film because I don’t play them games. And if I see him in the streets I’m going to bust him in his (expletive) mouth.
On your touchdown celebration, was that a little bit extra? “When you embarrass people you rub it in their face. When your dog (urinates) on the carpet, you rub it in his face.”
MINNEAPOLIS – The Carolina Panthers (2-3) showed up…big…completely dominating the emotion-laced Minnesota Vikings (1-4) Sunday. The Vikings outstanding running back, Adrian Peterson was grieving his 2-year-old son’s senseless death and the team seemed to be joining him. This does not mean, in any way, to denigrate the outstanding game played by the Panthers. All aspects – offense, defense and special teams – played as well as they could, and that being said, I must re-evaluate last week’s writing-off of this team.
The Panthers (2-3) moved within a game of .500 and will face St. Louis next week at home. In victories against the Giants (0-6) and Vikings (1-4), the Panthers have outscored their opponents 73-10. The Panthers’ 62-yard opening drive – which lasted nine minutes 29 seconds over 15 plays – took some of the buzz out of the Metrodome, which is being demolished after the season for a new stadium that will open in 2016.
Quarterback Cam Newton was outstanding, completed 20 of 26 passes for 242 yards, and added 30 yards and a touchdown on the ground. His 76.9 completion percentage was the second-best of his three-year career. Newton finished with a career-high passer rating of 143.4, and, for you fantasy players, he was the top-rated quarterback yesterday. The offensive line gave Newton plenty of protection, a far cry from last week’s Debacle in the Desert when he was sacked seven times.
Wide receiver Brandon LaFell continue to improve, playing solidly all game and caught a 79-yard touchdown pass on the third play in the second half. And, the team’s vocal leader, wide receiver Steve Smith and No. 3 wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. seemed to really enjoy themselves, putting big hits on the Vikings’ defensive backs. They do like physical play, these two.
The table is now set for the Panthers and it will be interesting to see what they bring when the Rams come into Bank of America Stadium next week. St. Louis is coming off a huge win at Houston, a game in which they were as dominant as the Panthers were in Minnesota. That game is followed by a short week…but the good news is that on Thursday night, Oct. 24, they play at the hapless, and winless, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. So, coming home to host the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 3, the home crowd could be seeing a team with a 4-3 mark, and looking to continue their move towards the playoffs. Interesting what ONE really good game can do to a team (and a writer)!
Here’s What They’re Saying:
Left tackle Jordan Gross: “That first drive we marched it down the field pretty methodically. To have coach Rivera give us the go-ahead on two fourth-and-1s, to call that consecutively on one drive is a pretty gutsy call for a head coach. It meant a lot to us that he would do that. It meant a lot to him that we held up our end of the bargain.”
Head coach Ron Rivera: “It’s what we’re going to do and we’re going to do the best we can to make things happen. I think these guys bought into it. I think that showing a little confidence and faith in them has really helped them.” “We had a couple things set up for last week as well we would have liked to have used. But we never put ourselves in a positive position. And again if you can be creative it keeps people off balance. We’ve got several weapons right now. I think Ted Ginn is keeping people off balance. … We’ve got a weapon at tight end and our running backs (131 yards) are playing very well as a group.”
Cam Newton on Rivera’s early aggressiveness: “It means a lot. Being in a hostile environment, and knowing that we need an edge in this game, we went for it. For him to trust us means a lot and it speaks volumes. He’s a defensive coach by nature, so he always has that conservative mentality. But I think he is kind of breaking his mold to a degree, and giving the whole team confidence with him.”
Steve Smith on, what he felt, was a negative: “I think for the most part for about three quarters offensively we played pretty good last week. The only negative part was the receivers let the offense down. This week we wanted to make sure it didn’t fall on us, that we’d be accountable, that people would depend on us, that we could be reliable. And I think we did that as far as catching the ball, running good routes and also blocking.”
Panthers’ defensive coordinator Sean McDermottoften put eight defenders near the line of scrimmage to slow Adrian Peterson and force quarterback Matt Cassel to beat them: “You’re talking about one of the best backs, if not the best back, to come along in some time. He squirted through a couple creases that were 6 inches sometimes. It’s hard to keep him in check. We were able to do a little of that today.”
Adrian Peterson on the Panthers defense: “Those guys did a good job of tackling and making it hard on us. We got behind the eight-ball early and it kind of took us out of our game plan that we had. We just offensively, defensively didn’t get it done.”
Linebacker Thomas Davis had an outstanding day. When asked what it was like to rush the quarterback and the offense is surprised there’s nobody between you and him: “Oh, man. Your eyes get big and you just go. Try to hit it the same way each time so there’s never a letdown. You don’t know you (if you’ll) come free. Just have to make sure you rush ‘em hard.”
Smith, in his 13th season, let everyone know he thinks this is a team to be reckoned with: “What happened (Sunday) is a team that seems to understand the importance of where we are right now. We understand where we are in our careers and also understand where our season is and where we can go. “Guys understand and trust the techniques that we’re taught, and the coaches trust the ability of the players and we’re able to do things in a way they understand. So it’s a lot of give and take. It’s a lot of pulling and prodding. And I think it doesn’t help with the news about (Rivera) being on the hot seat.”
“I think it’s a team that seems to be waking up.”
And Panthers fans everywhere have to believe that!
The Carolina Panthers (1-3) were optimistic entering Sunday’s contest at University of Phoenix Stadium against the Arizona Cardinals (3-2). They were coming off a bye week following a huge win at home against the New York Giants. But dropped passes and not protecting the quarterback ended their hopes, as the Cardinals won 22-6.
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said the offensive line has to do a better job of protecting quarterback Cam Newton, who was sacked seven times, and play-makers have to make plays. Steve Smith had two drops and Brandon LaFell had one in the first half in key situations.
Unfortunately, this was one of those “winnable” games coaches like to talk about. Win this, and your record is 2-2…winning becomes contagious. Look at the next three games on the schedule – next week’s game at Minnesota (quarterback problems), followed by a home game against St. Louis (all kinds of problems) and then a road trip to Tampa Bay (management/coaching/quarterback problems) – are also very “winnable”. So, the Panthers could have been 5-2 heading into a November 3 home game against division rival Atlanta. But they won’t be…I think they will be 4-3…because I am very, very optimistic.
After that, let’s count on losing at San Francisco and at home in a Monday-night tilt against New England. They close out November at Miami, in a game I just don’t see them winning. December’s schedule (home vs. Tampa, at New Orleans, home vs. New York Jets and New Orleans before ending at Atlanta) is not easy. Maybe 2-3 at best.
The reality…8-8 would be a great season…and mediocre football will not win the NFC South. They will end up with 5-11 or 6-10 if they continue to play like they have.
So there you have it. I’m writing them off…but stranger things have happened. I think this team has a lot of talent. Their front four on defense is excellent. They have good linebacking headed up by Luke Kuechly. Offensively, Newton can be a force. Greg Olsen is a very good tight end. Ted Ginn, Jr. has just too much talent not to be playing at a higher level. Steve Smith is as tough a receiver as you will find. That offensive line, however…if they continue to play like they have, Newton will just not have the time he needs to find his receivers, and that will lead to more of the same.
Olsen, the team’s leading receiver entering Sunday, had five catches for 79 yards in the first half. He was not targeted in the second half.
Newton was also under considerable pressure in the second half. He was sacked four times in the half and seven times in the entire game, which tied a career high. At one point in the first half Newton had a quarterback rating of 113.8. He finished at 47.8.
The Panthers have gotten off to slow starts now three consecutive years, and this one could cost Rivera his job. In fact, word is that the Panthers have already begun a quiet search for their next coach, according to reports this morning in The MMQB, Peter King’s outstanding pro football website.
Here’s What They’re Saying:
Panthers’ wide receiver Brandon LaFell: “He (Newton) played well under a lot of pressure and got banged up a couple of times. We got to make plays for him. I had a drop, Smitty had a couple drops, everybody had drops. Whenever you get chances on this team you’ve got to make plays and we didn’t make plays for him so good game by him, we’ve got to pick our game up as the skill players.”
Panthers’ wide receiver Steve Smith: “Blame the loss on me. I’m the scapegoat. Blame Steve Smith. It’s all Steve Smith’s fault.”
Panthers’ head coach Ron Rivera: “You have to give credit to them as well. They pressured the quarterback and we didn’t make the plays when we had opportunities, that’s probably the biggest reason. Whether it’s by design as far as the defense is concerned with their coverages or we missed a throw or we dropped the ball. We can’t have that.”
Rivera on missed opportunities: “Steve’s going to make plays for us, he’s going to make a lot of plays. And unfortunately he dropped one that he had an opportunity to catch. Same thing with Brandon LaFell. … These are guys that can’t do that in certain situations..”
Rivera on the lack of touchdowns produced by the Panthers: “Sometimes when you don’t score touchdowns it takes the wind out of your sails and you have to settle for the field goal.”
Panthers’ offensive tackle Jordan Gross on yet another slow start to the season: “Unfortunately, we’ve been here before. The last two years were similar to this and we ended up winning games at the end. So I don’t worry about anybody quitting. But we’ve got to figure out how to win games in October. Not winning now and then winning in December doesn’t do you much good.”
Gross, being brutally honest regarding his offensive line: “Anytime we give up sacks, the O-line didn’t block the guys. There’s a lot of ways I could try to spin it, but if the quarterback is getting sacked, it’s because the offensive line is not blocking well enough.”
Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton: “There are a lot of things that I feel I could have done better. Getting the ball out is one of them. I feel as if in both halves we had our opportunities. We’ve got to do a better job, well, not ‘we.’ I have to do a better job at protecting the ball and putting this offense in a better situation.”
Panthers free safety Mike Mitchell, who had one of three Panthers interceptions against Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer: “We had an opportunity to be 2-2, keep a win streak going, go on the road with another winnable game (against Minnesota). We were in second place. We had a lot to gain by winning this game. These are swing games. You win this one, now you’ve got two in a row, it could turn into five, six, seven games. Now you win one, you lose, you win, you lose – you don’t want that. That’s how you end up 8-8.”
Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer, who threw three interceptions but still got the win for Arizona, had high praise for the Panthers’ defensive line afterward.: “That is the best front four we have played so far. It’s probably the best front four we will play for awhile. I know Seattle’s good, but I don’t know if they are that good.”
Palmer on the real reason Arizona won: “We are fortunate to get 22 points. Our defense, with the safety and with the field position really helped us out.”