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Blog: Carolina Panthers down St. Louis Rams, 30-15

Posted October 20, 2013

The Carolina Panthers returned home Sunday, looking to get their third win of the year.

FINAL: Panthers 30, Rams 15: In a chippy contest in Charlotte Sunday, the Carolina Panthers forced three turnovers and defeated the St. Louis Rams, 30-15, to improve to 3-3 on the year.

9:09 4th: Panthers 30, Rams 15: Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein split the uprights on his second FG of the game but the Panthers still lead by 15 with under 10 minutes to play.

11:32 4th: Panthers 30, Rams 12: Graham Gano connected from 50-yards, his third FG of the game, and the Panthers lead is now 30-12 in the 4th quarter. Gano improved to 9-for-9 on the year with the kick.

:19 3rd: Panthers 27, Rams 12: The Carolina Panthers answered a Rams TD with a 8-play, 72-yard drive capped by a Steve Smith 19-yard TD reception and the lead is once again two scores.

5:22 3rd: Panthers 20, Rams 12: The Rams needed just three plays to respond to the Panthers score as a 73-yard pass play set up a 4-yard Zac Stacy touchdown - the first of his career.

6:46 3rd: Panthers 20, Rams 5: After Steve Smith was ruled down on the 1 after a review, the Rams defense held Carolina - aided by a personal foul flag on Mike Tolbert - to a field goal and the Panthers lead is now 20-5.

Also on the drive, Rams offensive lineman Chris Long was ejected after a large, both-team altercation.  Panthers down Rams, 30-15 Slideshow: Carolina Panthers vs. St. Louis Rams

HALF: Panthers 17, Rams 5: Despite giving up their first 1st quarter points all year, the Panthers take a 17-5 lead into half against the Rams. 

1:05 2nd: Panthers 17, Rams 5: The first offensive TD of the game came with less than two minutes to play before half as Mike Tolbert found the endzone on a 1-yard dive set up by a big Ted Ginn reception.

5:28 2nd: Panthers 10, Rams 5: A 15-play drive by St. Louis ended in a 28-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein and the Panthers lead has been narrowed to 10-5.

14:12: Panthers 10, Rams 2: Carolina added a 37-yard Graham Gano field goal after their cross-quarter drive stalled and the Panthers lead 10-2.

End of 1: Panthers 7, Rams 2: Carolina's offense was responsible for the first points surrendered in the 1st quarter all year, but they are driving with the lead as the game moves to the 2nd.

5:23 1st: Panthers 7, Rams 2: After the Panthers defense held on a 4th and goal, the Rams defense responded by tackling Mike Tolbert for a loss in the endzone and a safety. Carolina still leads St. Louis 7-2 late in the 1st.

The safety was the first points Carolina has given up in the 1st quarter all year.

14:54 1st: Panthers 7, Rams 0: Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn intercepted a Sam Bradford pass on the first play of the game, returning it 45 yards for a Panthers score and an early 7-0 lead.


PREGAME

Quarterbacks selected with the first pick in the NFL Draft haven't always been the catalysts for instant turnarounds. However, the teams that have gone with signal callers at No. 1 in the last few years seem pretty content with their decisions.

Two of those players - Sam Bradford (2010) of the St. Louis Rams and Cam Newton (2011) of the Carolina Panthers - will meet for the first time on Sunday in Charlotte to compare their respective progress reports.
For Bradford, a former star at the University of Oklahoma, it's a chance to win a third consecutive start for just the second time in his brief career.

The Rams opened 2013 with a home defeat of Arizona, then lost three straight games - at Atlanta, at Dallas and home to San Francisco - before bouncing back the last two weekends with a home defeat of Jacksonville and a 25-point rout at Houston.

St. Louis scored just 14 points per game during the three losses, but has put up a combined 72 in the victories over the Jaguars and Texans.

"They really never lost their confidence," coach Jeff Fisher said. "They just lost games."

The wins have seen a marked improvement in Bradford, who's thrown for 339 yards and six touchdowns and compiled a 121.6 passer rating - including a 134.6 mark against Houston - while hitting on 31-of-50 attempts. In the three straight losses, his rating was 77.1.

"He's been great, no mistakes," Fisher said. "He's managing the game. He's carrying on."

Not coincidentally, the Bradford resurgence came right about the time the Rams rediscovered a running game. Rookie Zac Stacy has churned out 157 yards in the last two weeks and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
Previous No. 1 back Daryl Richardson was averaging just 2.9 yards while starting three of the initial four games.

The Panthers have been less than porous against previous ground-gainers. They sit fourth in the league in rush defense at 88 yards per game. Overall, they're third, with a per-game total yardage clip of 299.2.
In the last three weeks, that average is 230 and they've forced eight turnovers.

A beneficiary of that stinginess on the other side has been Newton, who completed 20-of-26 passes for 242 yards, three scores and ran for another TD in a Week 6 defeat of Minnesota.

Coach Ron Rivera has trended toward bold when making offensive decisions, successfully converting a pair of fourth downs on the opening drive against the Vikings.

"Sometimes you play by the book and you miss opportunities," he said. "It's been an enlightening situation for me and one of the things I want to try to do is make sure we're in the best position to win."

Newton said the offense gets a boost when the coach provides that support.

"To trust us means a lot and it speaks volumes," Newton said. "He always has that conservative mentality. He is kind of breaking his mold to a degree, and giving the whole team confidence with him."

Carolina opened with losses to Seattle and Buffalo, then ripped the New York Giants, 38-0, in Week 3 at home. The Panthers' bye came in Week 4 and was followed by a 16-point loss at Arizona and the 25-point blowout win at Minnesota.

In the Rams, they meet a foe that's been gashed for 165.3 yards per game on the ground over the past four weeks, though that's been made up for in some part by the creation of seven turnovers in the last two games.
St. Louis scored twice on defense against Houston last week.

"We know our hands are going to be full against a team that's also coming off a big win," Newton said. "We're all excited about getting the opportunity to (return home). It feels like it's been a long time, but at the same time we're coming in with a little bit of momentum. That's what you want."

WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Rams to seek balance. St. Louis's stats from the Houston victory were noticeable -- only 16 throws by Bradford, in particular -- but they're mitigated by the fact that the Rams took an early lead and changed the game's dynamic.

This week, facing a team that's among the league's best stopping the run, expect offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to not abandon the run, but probably put more on Bradford's plate.

The Panthers to go old school. Carolina is one of the few teams in recent years to average more rushing attempts (32.6 per game through six games) than pass attempts (30.6 per game), and the Rams could be vulnerable there, considering they've allowed more than 160 per game on the ground in the last four.

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