NFL Carolina Panthers

5 Carolina Panthers Most Responsible for Turnaround

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5 Carolina Panthers Most Responsible for Turnaround

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers were at the top of the mountain in 2008, riding an 8-0 home record into the No. 2 spot in the NFC and into a second round matchup with eventual Super Bowl runner-up Arizona Cardinals. Jake Delhomme laid the biggest egg of his career in that game, and the Panthers have never been the same since. The Panthers renewed Delhomme's contract only to expel him at year's end, ushering in an unprecedented era of Panthers inadequacy.

Cam Newton was drafted in 2011 to be the franchise quarterback and turn the team into winner, but he has failed to deliver a winning season in his tenure and the man who brought him in, Ron Rivera, has received some serious flak for it. Whether it be overly conservative play-calling in the fourth quarter setting up an eventual defensive collapse, or giving up critical and unnecessary turnovers, the Panthers have repeatedly found a way to lose games over the past few years.

The Panthers started the 2013 season in similar fashion, losing two close games in the fourth quarter to last minute defensive collapses, a trend that put big targets on both Rivera and Newton. Injuries to an already vulnerable secondary only made the future more bleak, but then something amazing happened. The Panthers started gelling as team, especially on defense, and the collective synergy of their play translated into wins. Newton started to distribute the ball evenly instead of forcing plays, allowing Rivera and Mike Shula to make the risky calls. The Panthers as a whole have been the cause of the turnaround, but which people are most responsible? Well, here they are.

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5. Brandon LaFell

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LaFell hasn't made as much noise as the Panthers thought he would when they drafted him out of LSU, but he has certainly picked it up this season. He's tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns with three, and the pressure he has taken off of Steve Smith and Cam Newton has been essential to the Panthers' newfound offensive efficiency.

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4. Ron Rivera

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Rivera has received a lot of scrutiny for his conservative decision making and old-school approach, but he has turned it around by changing one of those things. He is still old-school in the way he handles his players, but he is saving the Panthers by his willingness to go for it on fourth down. The Panthers are 4-of-6 on fourth down this year, and those extra first downs have been invaluable.

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3. Mike Shula

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Shula was supposed to bring Cam Newton and the Panthers back down to earth after Rob Chudzinski's exotic schemes failed to generate victories, but he simply over did it early in the year. After stinking up the place in the first two games, Shula opened up the playbook and started taking some shots, and the Carolina offense has been a well-oiled machine ever since.

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2. Mike Mitchell

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It's hard to name one player on defense who has been responsible for the turnaround, but the secondary has played lights out despite adversity. Carolina's best defensive back, Charles Godfrey, was lost for the year in Week 2, but the rest of the DBs stepped up in his stead. Mike Mitchell and Robert Lester have been forcing critical turnovers, and Captain Munnerlyn has suddenly become a shutdown corner, failing to surrender a touchdown all year.

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1. Cam Newton

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Newton was one of the biggest reasons why the Panthers couldn't win over the past two years, with poor decision making leading to crushing turnovers and subsequent losses. He has also been the biggest reason why they have started winning, changing his style of play to fit Carolina's gameplan. Before Newton forced himself to make plays and be the center of the offense, but now he is managing the game and making smart decisions. The Panthers have one of the best time-control offenses in the league because of it.