By Ted Fleming
When the Panthers were 1-6 and possibly headed to another number one overall draft pick, they were heavy on mistakes short on how to correct them. Since then, they are 4-3 and have made few of them; in fact they have learned to take full advantage of those created by their opponents and turning those errors into wins.
On Sunday the Panthers took on a Chargers team at home who had one more win, were favored by a field goal, and were piloted by a quarterback that had a career 24-4 record in the month of December. In the end it didn’t mean a hill of beans because Philip Rivers self-destructed, the offense imploded and the defense tried to make a case that they were even worse.
The result was a lopsided 31-7 victory aided by 21 first quarter points. To put that into perspective, the Chargers had given up just 37 in the opening 15 minutes – all season.
COACHING: There is little to complain about here because everything the staff touched turned to gold, although one could have a couple of minor gripes with how a couple of players were used. The first was letting Cam Newton play the entire game even with a sizeable cushion.
The quarterback was banged around a little bit and will have a sore knee after players piled on after he dove for a first down near the goal line on a fourth-and-one, plus he had a bloody finger late in the first half. The other nit to pick was taking DeAngelo Williams out of the contest seven yards short of the first 100-yard game by a running back this year. Grade: B+
QUARTERBACK: The numbers are impressive: 19/33, 231 yards, 2 TDs, 99.4 rating and the one stat that is getting monotonous to report but welcomed reading for Panthers’ fans is another game with no interceptions, making it five straight games without one. Nice huh? Well there’s more, like setting a franchise mark of 153 consecutive passes without being picked off, three more – and still counting – than Jake Delhomme’s record of 150 set in 2006
The second-year pro has also put himself into some elite NFL company too. His 231 passing yards gives Newton 7,502 which pushes him past Dan Marino into second place for the most by any QB in their first two seasons in the league. Only Peyton Manning has more with 7,874 and the 23-year old needs just 372 in the final two games to become number one.
Maybe the biggest eye opener is that Newton is capable of winning without having to be the leading rusher. He could have limited himself because the knee was bothering him, although he rolled out a few times without a noticeable limp, but he took off just four times for seven yards. Grade: A+
OFFENSE: The Panthers were down to just six offensive linemen (a pregame casualty was guard Zack Williams who came up lame with an apparent right knee injury and had to be carted off) and Jeff Byers was making his first ever start at center yet they gave Cam Newton a lot of time to set up and make good throws. They also helped open up some big holes for DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert to run through, even Steve Smith cashed in with a 15-yarder, which led to 155 yards on the ground.
Williams did a lot of smiling out on the field, that’s because he would eat up a lot of yardage with 93 rushing and 51 through the air, 45 of them coming off a deflection that would result in a 45 yard scamper for a touchdown. He did cough up the ball once but it never came back to haunt the Panthers. Tolbert chipped in with 40 and 24 off a pair of catches while Steve Smith was his reliable self with six receptions and a TD. He had 57 yards giving him 1,000 or more for the seventh time in his illustrious career. Grade: A
DEFENSE: To borrow the title from a Beatles’ song, “It’s getting better all the time.” Four forced fumbles with two recoveries, six sacks while limiting the Chargers to a whopping total of just 164 total yards will get anyone’s attention. San Diego did lose their leading rusher and that contributed tom them gaining just 70 yards only they were in Philip Rivers’ face all afternoon keeping him to just 16 completions for 121 more. The Chargers came into the game leading the NFL in fumbles and the Panthers made sure his lead was widened by adding four more to his new total of 16.
Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson each recorded a pair of sacks giving them 11 and 12.5, respectively. Hardy also had three tackles for a loss while both recorded a forced fumble. It is a rare occasion that rookie Luke Kuechly doesn’t lead the team I tackles, he had eight, however he was two short of team leader Thomas Davis. The team had a total of 74. Grade: A+
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.