Carolina Panthers beat Tampa to improve record to 4-3

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.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had another outstanding game leading the Panthers to a 30-13 win over Tampa Bay.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had another outstanding game leading the Panthers to a 30-13 win over Tampa Bay.

 

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.

Carolina Panthers defensive lineman Greg Hardy stands over Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon after recording his second sack of the evening.
Carolina Panthers defensive lineman Greg Hardy stands over Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon after recording his second sack of the evening.

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.”

 

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. gains extra yards after making this reception, but dropped a sure touchdown pass earlier in the game.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. gains extra yards after making this reception, but dropped a sure touchdown pass earlier in the game.

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.”

Advertisements

Carolina Panthers even record with win over Rams; What they’re saying

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.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had a career-best 136.3 quarterback rating Sunday in the 30-15 win over the St. Louis Rams
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had a career-best 136.3 quarterback rating Sunday in the 30-15 win over the St. Louis Rams

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.

Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (41) intercepted St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford's first pass of the game 45 yards for a touchdown.
Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (41) intercepted St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford’s first pass of the game 45 yards for a touchdown.

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.

Carolina Panthers right tackle Byron Bell points at St. Louis Rams defensive end Eugene Sims during one of several "heated" moments in Sunday's 30-15 Panthers win.
Carolina Panthers right tackle Byron Bell points at St. Louis Rams defensive end Eugene Sims during one of several “heated” moments in Sunday’s 30-15 Panthers win.

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.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was injured on this play, but returned after missing one snap. The hit on Newton, by Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, just heated the action up more...
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was injured on this play, but returned after missing one snap. The hit on Newton, by Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, just heated the action up more…

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.

St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long was ejected after taking a swing at Carolina Panthers right guard Chris Scott on the play when Cam Newton returned after being hit hard and knocked out of the game.
St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long was ejected after taking a swing at Carolina Panthers right guard Chris Scott on the play when Cam Newton returned after being hit hard and knocked out of the game.

“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.”

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith made his 800th career reception special - he turned it into a touchdown Sunday against the St. Louis Rams...and had a lot to say about the game also!
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith made his 800th career reception special – he turned it into a touchdown Sunday against the St. Louis Rams…and had a lot to say about the game also!

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.”

Carolina Panthers dominate Minnesota Vikings: What they’re saying

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.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had a career-best passing day against the Vikings Sunday.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had a career-best passing day against the Vikings Sunday.

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.

Carolina Panthers receiver Brandon LaFell on his way to a touchdown in the second-half against Minnesota
Carolina Panthers receiver Brandon LaFell on his way to a touchdown in the second-half against Minnesota

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.”

Carolina Panthers head coach "Riverboat" Ron Rivera proving to be more aggressive in his play-calling than in the past.
Carolina Panthers head coach “Riverboat” Ron Rivera proving to be more aggressive in his play-calling than in the past.

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.”

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is gang-tackled by Carolina Panthers linebackers Luke Kuechly (59) and Thomas Davis (58)
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is gang-tackled by Carolina Panthers linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis (58)

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!

Carolina Panthers drop “winnable” game to Arizona Cardinals, 22-16

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.

Carolina Panthers
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was pressured the entire second half. Here, Arizona Cardinals’ lineman Calais Campbell (93) beats center Ryan Kalil forcing Newton to throw early.
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.

Game Notes:

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.”

Carolina Panthers blank New York Giants 38-0; What they’re saying

CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers answered a lot of questions with their 38-0 shellacking of the visiting New York Giants. Namely, would Ron Rivera still be the head coach following next week’s bye? Simply put, of course he will. Early in the game, a source within the organization said even if the Panthers had lost to the Giants, Rivera would not be replaced during the season.

But, getting the team’s first shutout since 2008 certainly erased those rumors.

It was the largest margin of victory in the Panthers’ 19-year history. It also was the Giants’ worst loss under head coach Tom Coughlin.

Carolina Panthers' wide receiver Ted Ginn caught this 47-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton.
Carolina Panthers’ wide receiver Ted Ginn caught this 47-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton.

Offensively for the Panthers, Cam Newton threw touchdown passes of 16 and 20 yards to Brandon LaFell, and completed a 47-yard pass to the speedster, Ted Ginn, for the Panthers’ final score. DeAngelo Williams rushed for 120 yards on 23 carries.

The defense was outstanding…or maybe it was just simply the ineptitude of the Giants’ offense making the Panthers look so good. An emotional Rivera nearly came to tears twice during the post-game presser. “This makes life easier. The last two weeks have been tough.”

The Panthers’ front four were led by defensive end Greg Hardy, who had three sacks in the first half alone. He repeatedly beat Giants left tackle Will Beatty to put pressure on Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning.

Carolina Panthers undrafted rookie Robert Lester recovered this fumble in the 38-0 win over the New York Giants.
Carolina Panthers undrafted rookie Robert Lester recovered this fumble in the 38-0 win over the New York Giants.

The convincing win brings the Panthers record to 1-2 and drops the Giants to 0-3. The Panthers defense came into the game a beat-up group. The secondary was decimated, with just one starter playing. But they helped themselves out a lot today. Given the chance, this motley crew came through with three takeaways. Undrafted rookies Robert Lester and Melvin White accounted for all three.

The Panthers’ defensive front line sacked Manning seven times, which tied a franchise mark set six previous times, most recently in a loss last season in Atlanta.

What I liked about this game:

  • The way Rivera finally opened up offensively. He went for it on an early fourth-and-one from the Giants’ 2-yard line. Fullback Mike Tolbert scored standing up and the rout was on.
  • Cam Newton looked like the Cam from the final six games of the 2012 season. Following an early interception, he ran the ball effectively when needed, and threw three touchdown passes.
  • Brandon LaFell finally looking like the receiver the Panthers thought he could be. Two touchdown receptions and he made a tackle at the Carolina 17-yard line following an interception thrown by Newton. His tackle allowed the Panthers’ defense back on the field where they stuck it to the Giants, not allowing any points.

HERE’S WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:

Panthers’ offensive tackle Jordan Gross on the impact of this win: “It’s huge on a lot of different levels. It might silence a little bit of the murmurs about our organization, give our players a ton of confidence, and lend validity to what we’ve been doing. To be able to come out and get a 38-point win against the Giants, who did almost the exact opposite to us last year, really means a lot.”

“I was so nervous before the game,” Gross said. “I was as nervous as I’ve been in years. I knew how much this game meant and how bad I wanted the guys in the locker room to feel a victory.”

Gross talked about the play that everyone thinks changed the perception of the Panthers. Fourth-and-one from the 2 yard line, and Rivera went for it, in a scoreless tie:

“That was huge. Very symbolic. That’s been criticized for seven days now (since Rivera didn’t go for a fourth-and-1 in a loss to Buffalo). … So on the sideline afterward I told (center Ryan) Kalil, ‘Dude, that was awesome! We got that on fourth and 1!’ And Kalil says, ‘It was fourth and 1? I thought it was third and one!’”

Panthers’ linebacker Chase Blackburn (a former Giant) on the defensive effort Sunday: “We’ve got a great front four. In my career, I have been a part of some great defensive lines. To have those guys hunt (the quarterback), especially when we stop the run and make them one-dimensional, is a great feeling.”

Carolina Panthers linebacker Chase Blackburn tackles David Wilson. The former Giant played well in the Panthers' 38-0 win.
Carolina Panthers linebacker Chase Blackburn tackles David Wilson. The former Giant played well in the Panthers’ 38-0 win.

Panthers’ wide receiver Steve Smith talking about Cam Newton: “He was the better quarterback out there. That’s all we need. That’s all we ask. We just need him to be Cam Newton.”

Carolina Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton ran effectively for the first time this season and threw for three touchdowns leading the Panthers to a 38-0 win over the visiting New York Giants Sunday.
Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton ran effectively for the first time this season and threw for three touchdowns leading the Panthers to a 38-0 win over the visiting New York Giants Sunday.

Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton on the win: “A win like this boosts our ego, but not in a negative way. It just gives us that swagger we will need.”

Victorious for the first time this season, Carolina Panthers' head coach Ron Rivera walks off the field following the 38-0 win over the New York Giants.
Victorious for the first time this season, Carolina Panthers’ head coach Ron Rivera walks off the field following the 38-0 win over the New York Giants.

Panthers’ head coach Ron Rivera on the win: “You look at our guys and some of the things they do and the fact that they really want to win. And to win games like this, it’s because they deserve that opportunity. These guys have gone through a lot in the last three seasons, and I think to win a game like this, especially a team coached by Tom Coughlin, says something about who they are. And these guys have persevered, and hopefully this is the catalyst for us to get rolling.”

Carolina Panthers' rookie defensive lineman Kawann Short sacked Eli Manning...one of seven Panthers' sacks on Sunday's 38-0 win over the New York Giants.
Carolina Panthers’ rookie defensive lineman Kawann Short sacked Eli Manning…one of seven Panthers’ sacks on Sunday’s 38-0 win over the New York Giants.

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin on the Panthers’ defense and one big reason his team lost: “I’ll bet the quarterback got hit 20 times today.”

The Panthers are off this week with a bye and return to action at Arizona on Sunday, October 6.

Carolina Panthers (0-2) drop game at Buffalo: What they’re saying

The track record for 0-2 teams making the playoffs since 2008 may tell the Carolina Panthers their season is over. But let’s hold off on that. The NFL is full of 1-1 teams right now, including San Francisco, Green Bay and the Super Bowl champions, the Baltimore Ravens. What is telling is that the Panthers continue to lose games they should win.

The 24-23 loss to the resurgent Buffalo Bills Sunday (with just :02 seconds remaining in the game) now makes head coach Ron Rivera a huge target. Under his leadership, the Panthers are 2-14 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, teams that started the season 0-2 have made the playoffs 11.6% of the time.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton sacked by Buffalo Bills defensive lineman, Marcell Dareus. This was one of six sacks recorded by Buffalo.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton sacked by Buffalo Bills defensive lineman, Marcell Dareus. This was one of six sacks recorded by Buffalo.

The offensive line was a sieve, allowing the Bills defense to sack quarterback Cam Newton six times on Sunday. While the Panthers’ offensive brain trust wants to limit Newton’s running  this season, his line must provide better protection. His only options, run or be sacked. The offense needs to be more vertical as well, in my opinion. Conservative football is on the wane in the NFL, and with Newton, the Panthers have an outstanding weapon. He is big, strong and has football smarts. Just look at the results in the final six games of the 2012 season and you can see that.

While the Panthers have been slow starters for the past two, now three, seasons, speculation, of course, is how long will Rivera remain in charge. Personally, he’s a nice guy who is very open to the media. You can see this team is hurting. But this is a “win now” league, and with Atlanta and New Orleans the big dogs in the NFC South, this team cannot afford to lose Sunday to the similarly smarting New York Football Giants and Eli Manning. If you thought EJ Manuel, the Bills rookie quarterback had an up-and-down day, maybe you’re right. In the Panthers’ defense, they did lose three-fourths of their secondary to injuries. Free safety Charles Godfrey is probably lost for the season with an Achilles injury. However, Manuel was 27-of-39 for 296 yards and did lead the Bills on a game-winning 80-yard drive to close out the game. So…what do you think Eli will do to the Panthers’ secondary?

Here’s what they’re saying about the loss:

Carolina Panthers' head coach Ron Rivera is certainly on the hot seat. His team is off to another slow start in 2013.
Carolina Panthers’ head coach Ron Rivera is certainly on the hot seat. His team is off to another slow start in 2013.

Head coach Ron Rivera: “It’s very excruciating. You put yourself in position to win a football game, and you’ve got to close them out. That’s probably the toughest thing that we’ve got to learn to do – finish it off. How to punish somebody and end the game.”

Cam Newton, when the Panthers faced a fourth-and-one, from the Bills’ 21 yard line, with 1 minute, 42 seconds remaining on a call by Rivera, who opted for a field goal instead of going for the first down. “If we would have went for it on fourth-and-short, then obviously guys would have gritted their teeth and said, ‘Let’s get it’. And I have no doubt in my mind that we would have gotten it. But I have full confidence in our coaches’ decisions.”

Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel led his team on an 80-yard drive capped off by a 2-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson with :02 remaining to beat Carolina 24-23 Sunday. It was Manuel's first win in the NFL.
Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel led his team on an 80-yard drive capped off by a 2-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson with :02 remaining to beat Carolina 24-23 Sunday. It was Manuel’s first win in the NFL.

On the Bills’ final drive, it appeared that the Panthers had stopped them on third-and-6 from the Panthers’ 31 with 21 seconds left. Manuel sailed a pass that third-team safety Colin Jones intercepted. But officials ruled Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly interfered with Johnson, who was Manuel’s target.

Kuechly on the call: “He was running down the middle of the field, he crossed my face and I had my arm out and he ran into my arm. Everything happened quick. I’ll take a quick peak at it (Monday) to see what it looked like.”

The Bills were able to run another play…and this one was the dagger. Stevie Johnson, lined up in the slot, ran a corner route, with wideout Chris Hogan coming across the middle. The Panthers were in man coverage, with cornerback Josh Norman lined up across from Hogan and defensive back D.J. Moore on Johnson in the slot.

Moore yelled for a switch, meaning Norman was to pick up Johnson in the corner. Johnson said he heard the call, but Norman said he never did.

Moore on the play: “They ran the play earlier in two-minute, and we’re supposed to switch it off. It was virtually the same thing. It was probably on me. I have to make sure the corner gets (the call). If he didn’t get it, it’s on me.”

Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (88) and tackle Jordan Gross (69) react to the Buffalo Bills' winning touchdown with :02 remaining in the game.
Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (88) and tackle Jordan Gross (69) react to the Buffalo Bills’ winning touchdown with :02 remaining in the game.

Tight end Greg Olsen, who had a 13-yard touchdown reception Sunday, on being 0-2, and losing another game the Panthers should have won: “I don’t even know at this point what to say anymore. We need to change it, and that’s our only option. … We can’t continue to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves and continue to say, ‘Man, why did this happen to us?’ It happens to us because we allow it.”

The Giants will also be seeking their first win of the season, which makes the upcoming game absolutely crucial for two teams expecting to be in the playoffs this year. Only one will have any kind of chance.

Carolina Panthers drop opener to Seattle Seahawks: What they’re saying

CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers went back to a tried and true formula from last year in their 12-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks Sunday. Stay close and lose. Let me repeat that – stay close and lose. And, the Panthers are not happy about it. This team needs to get off to a quick start – the last two seasons they have started 2-8, and that will be unacceptable for this year’s team.

Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams (34) dives back for the ball after fumbling as Seattle Seahawks Richard Sherman (25) stretches out for the ball. Seattle recovered the ball, ending the Panthers' chances to win on Sunday.
Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams (34) dives back for the ball after fumbling as Seattle Seahawks Richard Sherman (25) stretches out for the ball. Seattle recovered the ball, ending the Panthers’ chances to win on Sunday.

The Panthers were driving for a potential go-ahead score when running back DeAngelo Williams fumbled at the end of a 16-yard run inside the Seattle 10. Cornerback Richard Sherman hit Williams from the front, safety Earl Thomas popped the ball loose from behind, and defensive Tony McDaniel recovered at the Seahawks’ 8 with 5:25 left. Stay close and lose.

The announced Bank of America Stadium attendance was 73,294…and none of them came to see a replay of the last two seasons.

Here’s a round-up of quotes from players and coaches following the game:

DeAngelo Williams (76 yards on 16 carries): “It ultimately came down to that fumble, let’s just get that out of the way. It was my fault. In that situation, I’ve watched countless film on them and I know that’s what they do, they strip and go for the ball. But I’m a fighter. I’m going to fight for every yard that I can get and help my team win. When the ball came out, no one else was more (upset) than I was,” Williams said. “The hopes and dreams of the 11 guys on offense resided in that ball.”

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera: “You know I’d like to believe we have an opportunity to change (the memories of last season),” he said. “I’d like to believe that definitely we can get these things worked out and get it rolling. Again it’s a good football team we played against but we had opportunity … to beat a team that a lot of people are crowing right now. And you know it should be a wake-up call for us that hey, we can play with anybody and we are most certainly capable, and we’re going to win some football games.”

Rivera on what HE has to do to get over such a disheartening loss: “Go right back to work. I mean there’s really nothing you can do. … Just try to find the answer. I mean that’s what I’ll continue to do. And we found it last year late and it’s time to find it early. It really is. We can’t wait and I understand that and we will certainly find that answer and get rolling.”

Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith making a catch Sunday in a losing effort against the Seattle Seahawks in the Panthers' home opener.
Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith making a catch Sunday in a losing effort against the Seattle Seahawks in the Panthers’ home opener.

Panthers wide receiver (and most vocal of all Charlotte players) Steve Smith: “I think we’re going to see them again deep in January. For us to have played that team that’s considered by all accounts the best team in the NFL … I think if that’s who’s the best team, it came down to the last (minutes) and it was a well-fought game. Our season is not over.

“All the reports say we have to start fast or the season’s over,” Smith said. “If (Sunday’s game) means the season’s over, I’m not sure what kind of football y’all are used to around here. Because that’s not a quitting team.”

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton: “Let’s not panic now. We’re going to be all right. It’s just the first game. We played an unbelievable team and my hat goes off to Russell Wilson and those guys with Seattle. But I just feel like it was nothing that they did to stop us. It was just us that weren’t making the plays.”

Seahawks cornerback (and vocal team leader) Richard Sherman: “Great defenses find a way. And that’s what we try to do.”

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) being harassed by Panthers Defensive Tackle Colin Cole (91) who is being blocked by Seattle's J.R. Sweezy (64).
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) being harassed by Panthers Defensive Tackle Colin Cole (91) who is being blocked by Seattle’s J.R. Sweezy (64).

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (who finished with a regular-season career-high 320 passing yards, completing 25 of 33 pass attempts): “We just kept it alive,” speaking of overcoming the slow start offensively. “I think that attitude, that mentality, that coach (Pete) Carroll instills in us really gives us a chance to keep battling no matter what the circumstances are.”

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll: “The way we started, we were backed up and they got after us pretty good,” speaking of Wilson, who finished with a quarterback rating of 115.7. “He didn’t start real well — it wasn’t necessarily him, but we didn’t get the completions.”

Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (41) and linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) fight to make a tackle on Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin (89). The defense played tough, although they allowed Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to have a record-setting day.
Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (41) and linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) fight to make a tackle on Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin (89). The defense played tough, although they allowed Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to have a record-setting day.

“I thought he did a great job against a very active pass rush,” Carroll said. “He’s more in command of everything that we are doing in every phase. We don’t have to hold anything back. We can do everything we can think of and he can handle it.”

The Panthers return to action next Sunday when they travel to Buffalo to meet the resurgent Bills (who should have beaten New England yesterday) in a critical game.

 

Carolina Panthers name captains for 2013 season

Cam Newton, entering his third year as the Carolina Panthers starting quarterback, has been named as one of six team captains for this season. Head coach Ron Rivera announced the captains prior to Thursday’s practice.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, running in a game last year, has been named as one of six captains for the 2013 squad.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, running in a game last year, has been named as one of six captains for the 2013 squad.

In addition to Newton, the other five captains are reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year LB Luke Kuechly, LB Thomas Davis, WR Steve Smith, LT Jordan Gross and C Ryan Kalil.

Newton’s captainship reflects on how the 2011 No. 1 overall draft choice has grown over the offseason. He came to camp with a more serious attitude and showed a lot of leadership qualities. Kuechly, who led the league in tackles last season, is the defensive player everyone follows and gravitates towards. Davis, Smith, Gross and Kalil are the veterans who are showing the way for all players. Gross, Smith and Davis were captains last season as well.

The Panthers open the 2013 season Sunday at home against the Seattle Seahawks.

Carolina Panthers Set 53-Man Roster With Cuts

The Carolina Panthers have made the following roster moves to reach the NFL’s mandatory 53-man roster limit. Most notably, four-year veteran quarterback Jimmy Clausen, as well as four-year veteran wide receiver David Gettis, were placed on the Waived/Injured list. 11-year veteran cornerback Drayton Florence was placed on the Terminated Veteran List.

Jimmy Clausen, 4-year veteran quarterback from Notre Dame, was waived today by the Carolina Panthers
Jimmy Clausen, 4-year veteran quarterback from Notre Dame, was waived today by the Carolina Panthers

15 players were waived:

Brenton Berson, WR
Garrett Chisolm, T
Dominique Curry, TE
Sione Fua, DT
Hayworth Hicks, G
Doug Hogue, LB
Taulib Ikharo, WR
Ben Jacobs, LB
Robert Lester, S
Tori Mobley, G
Zack Pianalto, TE
Tauren Poole, RB
Craig Roh, DE
James Shaw, WR
Casey Walker, DT

Four players were placed on the Waived/Injured List:

D.J. Campbell, S
Jimmy Clausen, QB
David Gettis, WR
Anderson Russell, S

Three players were placed on the Terminated Vested Veteran list:

Patrick Brown, T
Drayton Florence, CB
Jason Williams, LB

This does not mean that the remaining 53 players will be the actual players on the opening day roster as teams can pick up waived players. The Panthers open the season Sunday, Sept. 8, at home against the Seattle Seahawks.

Carolina Panthers make four roster moves

The Carolina Panthers reached the league-mandated 75-player roster limit Tuesday night by making four moves.

Jonathan Stewart, who is still recovering from off-season surgery, was placed on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list. After meeting with a foot specialist on Tuesday about his surgically repaired right ankle, Stewart will begin the season on the physically unable to perform list. “I can spend all my energy being disappointed, or spend all my energy preparing myself,” Stewart said following Tuesday’s practice. “It’s just got to heal up.”

Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart in action last season. He is showing a very positive attitude knowing he will miss at least four games this year.
Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart in action last season. He is showing a very positive attitude knowing he will miss at least four games this year.

“Our doctors and trainers have been going at it, figuring things out – solutions here and there,” Stewart said. “We’ve put a lot of brainpower behind it. So we’re working at it.”

“He’s made some big strides, some real good things have happened,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera added. “It’s just they’re not going to happen soon enough. So in order to help us as a football team, this is the best move that we could make.”

Stewart, who has been on the preseason PUP list, will be out a minimum of six weeks and is eligible to return in Week 7. He will miss at least five games (the Panthers have a bye in Week 4). This move also opens the door for DeAngelo Williams to get more carries…something he has wanted for the last two seasons.

The two veterans who were placed on the Waived/Injured list are second-year wide receiver/kick returner Joe Adams and third-year defensive tackle Frank Kearse. Adams started last year as the team’s kick and punt returner after Carolina drafted him in the fourth round out of Arkansas. He struggled with controlling the ball, fumbling away a kickoff and muffing a punt in Week 3 against the Giants. Rivera said he believed Kearse injured his knee during the Philadelphia game, but snap counts show it likely happened during the Chicago game since he did not play against the Eagles.

Should they clear waivers and no team picks them up, both players will automatically revert to the Panthers’ injured reserve. Michael Zordich, Kealoha Pilares and Bruce Campbell reverted to the Panthers’ IR Tuesday.

Guard Edmund Kugbila, Carolina’s fourth-round draft pick from April, has been injured most of his time with Carolina, has been placed on the Injured/Reserve list. He struggled all spring and summer with knee and hamstring injuries. Kugbila, a 6-foot-4, 325-pound lineman from Division II Valdosta State, missed nearly all of spring workouts with a sore knee and he strained his hamstring during the first practice of training camp in July. He attempted to practice later in camp but suffered a setback and did not finish the practice session. He is done for the year.