By Ted Fleming
They call it winning ugly, but the way the season has gone for the Carolina Panthers, it doesn’t matter how they got it. Taking advantage of three fumbles by a pair of rookies, a penalty prone Eagles team and some heady play by quarterback Cam Newton, Carolina was able to outlast Philadelphia 30-22 before a hostile, half-empty Lincoln Financial Field.
The victory was just their third of the season and with the lowly Chiefs up next, even though the game is in Kansas City, there is an outside chance they could equal or even surpass last year’s win total of six despite the team’s horrendous start. The Panthers can take a lot from this game even though there are still some serious flaws on special teams and little production from the running backs.
Coaching: It was the student, Ron Rivera, up against his mentor, Andy Reid, and it was pretty much a stalemate because neither head coach could control the play on the field. Rivera and his staff did what they could under the circumstances, but the simple fact is there were two relatively inept teams facing each other. There was some good, a lot of bad and quite a bit of ugly. It was hard to figure out if it was the play calling or the lack of execution.
Quarterback: Cam Newton was making his Monday Night Football debut. He looked like he was channeling his 2011 season lightning up Lincoln Field on the first two series of the game where they scored two touchdowns in a quarter for just the second time all season. He would miss some open receivers, but for the most part it, was like a race to the bathroom because he was flushed out of the pocket so often. The numbers were very good – 18/28, 306-yards and 4 TDs (two rushing) and a 125.0 passer rating. He would lead the team, again, in rushing with 52-yards. Most importantly, Newton added yet another game without an interception. Grade: A
Offense: The offensive line, at times, made the Philly defense look like the Purple People Eaters of Minnesota Vikings’ fame, yet they succeeded more often than not when it counted. The receiving corps was solid with four players having at least 50-yards and they averaged 17-yards a catch. Sadly, the ground game was once again ineffective with just 57-yards on 21 carries (2.7 yard average) which brings the score down. Grade: B-
Defense: Staked to a 14-point lead gave up a pair of field goals, touchdown with a missed two-point conversion for a tie and another three-pointer for 15 unanswered points to trail by one at the half. The defense also had three golden opportunities to pick off Eagles’ rookie QB Nick Foles, but in each case could not come away with the ball. Haruki Nakamura had the biggest negative play of the night, getting flagged for a 51-yard pass interference call setting up a go-ahead TD early in the second half. Unable to contain first year back Bryce Brown, he rushed for 178-yards and two TDs. He did cough up the ball twice, being stripped by Sione Fua and Charles Johnson while Luke Kuechly (led team with 8 tackles) and Thomas Davis picked up the loose balls. At 8:35 of the fourth they stuffed Brown on fourth-and-inches, arguably the shining moment of the evening. Grade: C+
Special teams: New kicker Graham Gano did a good job on kickoffs with two touchbacks on six boots down field. He made the Panthers’ first field goal in four games, only he did something his predecessor didn’t – miss a PAT. There were also some big gaffes like Josh Thomas smacking Damaris Johnson after he signaled for a fair catch on a punt. Mike Tolbert got flagged for clipping on the opening kickoff of the second half (it didn’t come back to bite the Panthers because they would go 95-yards for a TD). There was one highlight though. After the missed extra point by Gano, Sherrod Martin stripped Brandon Boykin on the kickoff return and Gary Barnidge pounced on it for the third fumble recovery of the game. However, there were too many mistakes to change a failing score. Grade: F
Notables: Wide receiver Steve Smith became the 27th player in NFL history to reach 11,000 career receiving yards.
Greg Hardy recorded his eighth sack of the season in the first quarter, a career best. They have all come in the last nine games.
Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.