A week after suffering an embarrassing loss to the Arizona Cardinals, with Ron Rivera and Cam Newton‘s butts firmly scalded on the hot seat, the Carolina Panthers dominated the Minnesota Vikings on the road, recalling memories of the Giants game. The defense was dominant as usual and the offense was clicking as well, a phenomenon that only seems to occur a few times a season. Everyone in Panthers nation loves to see wins like this, where the whole team plays to their potential and executes; it just hasn’t been something they’ve been able to repeat. They brought their A-game this week, though, so there is some optimism brewing. So what was different? How did the Panthers pull it off this time?
It’s the Little Guys
Carolina’s defense is loaded with talent, with perennial Pro Bowlers Luke Kuechly and Charles Johnson manning key positions, but it was those of lesser reputation that stepped up on Sunday. Thomas Davis hasn’t lost a step since his third knee surgery, and it really showed on Sunday. Davis led the Panthers in tackles with nine and also posted two sacks, giving Adrian Peterson and the Vikings’ offensive line headaches all day. Mike Mitchell also played a huge role, capitalizing Matt Cassel‘s inaccuracy and netting two key interceptions, as well as a sack. The fact that lower men on the totem pole can post stats like that shows just how dominant Carolina’s defense can be.
Related Article: Carolina Panthers’ Unsung Defensive Breakout Performances In Week 6
Purple People Eaters
Carolina’s offensive line got manhandled last week by Calais Campbell and Daryl Washington, allowing seven sacks and failing to spark the running game as well. This week they were much improved, holding a talented but aging Vikings’ defensive line to only one sack and also rushing for 131 yards. The Panthers really needed a performance like this to boost their confidence, because a shaky offensive line is the easiest way for a team to decline and the fastest way for a team to fall to the bottom. The line will need to continue to play at this level if the Panthers want to get back into the playoff hunt, but they haven’t exactly been a model of consistency.
…and He’s Back
Cam Newton was an enigma last week against the Cardinals, being responsible for four turnovers. He turned it around this week by accounting for four touchdowns, highlighted by a 79-yard pitch-and-catch to Brandon LaFell. Newton was very accurate on Sunday, completing 20 of his 26 attempts, and he really seemed comfortable with the offensive line playing better. The problem is that Cam is wildly inconsistent, and games like this are the exception to the rule. To get better, Newton needs to work on expanding his passing repertoire beyond just his fastball. He can hum a bullet into tight space with the best of him, but he still struggles to put touch on balls and drop them over the defender’s shoulder, instead of directly into his hands.