Panthers showing playoff potential
Posted October 25, 2013
Carolina's 31-13 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Thursday night put the Panthers above .500 for the first time since 2008. That's a span of 71 games in which the franchise trudged wearily through quarterback changes, draft mistakes, various incarnations of the coaching staff and a switch in general manager.
Folks who hadn't checked out on the Panthers altogether were clamoring for more change as recently as four weeks ago. Who could blame them, considering Carolina was losing games in the same brutal fashion from the previous two years? Head coach Ron Rivera dealt with reports that the front office in Charlotte was vetting possible replacements, and quarterback Cam Newton was a sports talk radio piñata.
Amazing what a three-game winning streak in the NFL can do for the general discourse surrounding a team. Playoffs? Actual possibility. Newton is blasting Drake in his headphones, and nobody would blame him if he told folks asking to get back on the bandwagon "no new friends." Rivera looks like an extra in "Last Vegas," where old dudes are throwing caution to the wind to prove they still got it.
Teams are what their record says they are, and at 4-3, the Panthers aren't suddenly Super Bowl sleepers because they've reeled off wins against teams with a combined 5-22 record. The important takeaway is that Carolina is doing what its supposed to be doing against the dregs of the league and putting themselves in position for a playoff spot.
Carolina has a defense sitting near the top of most statistical categories, and they haven't given up a first-half touchdown through eight weeks of the season. The Panthers' offense is finally taking advantage of the defensive starts, utilizing their running game to open up the rest of the play-calling and converting in the red zone.
Newton continued his run of mistake-free football on Thursday with 221 passing yards on 23-of-32 passing and two touchdowns. He added 50 yards and another touchdown on the ground. Newton took three sacks, but he was 11-for-15 for 84 yards against five or more pass-rushers.
In the last three games, Newton has a 130.3 passer rating. He's completed 58-of-75 attempts and thrown for 667 yards in that stretch, tossing six touchdowns and punching in two on his own.
Rewind to the first half against Arizona, when Steve Smith dropped a touchdown pass and Brandon LaFell couldn't hold on to a fourth down conversion, marring an otherwise snappy effort out of Newton. Had the Panthers put numbers on the board instead of balls on the ground, we could be discussing a five-game win streak instead of the three that just gave them a winning record.
Carolina faces an unimpressive Atlanta Falcons squad that has come crashing back to Earth after last season's run next. They'll see the disastrous Tampa Bay Buccaneers again and host the wildly inconsistent New York Jets. They also have a winnable game against the Miami Dolphins, who don't have an offensive line to protect Ryan Tannehill.
Congratulations, Panthers. You're back to being interesting.