By: Alec Campbell
Generally speaking, success in the NFL is measured by wins and losses. For glass-half-full Panther fans, Sunday’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals is probably the most satisfying loss they’ve ever experienced. As I digest the outcome, I can’t help but wonder if this line of thinking is acceptable. After all, we’re talking about professional sports. There are no oranges at halftime or slushies after the game. I’m sure the players are not accepting the loss, and accepting it as fans is doing them a disservice. That said it would also be unfair to disregard the positives that did emerge.
The real story of the game is the play of Cam Newton who had one of the greatest regular season debut performances of any rookie quarterback in history. His 422 passing yards were a record for any rookie QB in his debut. His 110.4 efficiency rating was among the top 10 over the weekend, and he was directly responsible for all three Panther scores. Beyond the numbers, however, Newton looks remarkably calm for a rookie playing the toughest position in sports. More importantly, he appears to be actively employing the skills and techniques that it takes to be an NFL quarterback: His drops and footwork are confident and fluid, he stays in the pocket even when you can tell he’s fighting it, he goes through his progressions, and his throws appear effortless yet powerful.
He has that Vick-esque, flick-of-the-wrist delivery.
It was also refreshing to see Steve Smith take an active role in the offense. Cam did a nice job of looking for him and it was obvious the coaching staff made a concerted effort to keep him involved throughout the game. Steve looked enthusiastic and he made some great catches including his two touchdown grabs which equaled his 2010 scoring total.
The coaching staff gets the third gold star for the game. They are clearly implementing an exciting and entertaining brand of football. There were multiple formations, lots of motion, and an effort to move the ball in large chunks. It’s hard to believe, but they threw the ball 10 more times than they rushed it and Newton was able to find 8 different receivers throughout the day. Quite atypical of traditional Panther football.
The cons start with the special teams and defense. In the end, the offense played well enough to squeeze out a win. The defensive line was respectable on the pass rush managing 2 sacks, one from newly resigned defensive end Charles Johnson. Good to get a return on investment. However, the run defense was vulnerable from the defensive line all the way into to the secondary. Special teams wise, you can’t give up a punt return in the 4th quarter when you have a chance to win.
The offensive line gets a C at best and that is mostly due to the run blocking. The pass blocking wasn’t great either, but for a team whose biggest threat is supposed to be its running back tandem it certainly didn’t show. Just 30 yards on 12 carries for DeAngelo Williams and 26 yards on 7 carries for Jonathan Stewart. Also, there were some costly penalties and my concerns about the health of right tackle Jeff Otah continue as he was held out of multiple series’ throughout the game.
The fact of the matter is the team lost. It’s ok to recognize the positives, but to take on this “everybody gets a trophy” mentality is unhealthy. I’m not afraid to be the guy who pops the balloon after what was clearly a more acceptable performance than anything we’ve seen as Panther fans in the last couple of years. I’m simply warning fans to temper their optimism and reassuring them that an honest assessment is necessary and respectful, for you and the team.