By Ted Fleming
The final score was 17-6 but it was hard to figure whether the Panthers won it, the Raiders lost it or the referees tried to influence the outcome. In the case of the latter, they threw so many yellow hankies on the turf of Bank of America Stadium that they could be seeking a laundry detergent sponsor when they send their game day report into the NFL offices in New York. It wasn’t a case of a lot of nit-picking five yarders, they were the chunkers that ate up 15 at a time.
The Panthers did manage to come away with their third straight victory, an accomplishment that would have seemed impossible considering how the season started and at the very worst they will finish with the identical 6-10 record of a year ago, something else that would have appeared inconceivable after beginning 1-6. Unfortunately it was a lackluster performance against a bad team and someone had to come out on top.
If this game was any indication, the Panthers won’t be able to pull off win number seven in the season finale because they will be playing in New Orleans against a Saints squad who might just be the best team not going to the postseason.
Facing the league’s worst defense, Carolina’s went about their business as if they were looking past the Raiders, which is hard to do when you have a losing record. Blasé might be the perfect adjective to describe how the Panthers finished up their home schedule.
COACHING: Ron Rivera, like almost every head coach in the NFL with a losing record, has the hardest job in the world trying to get his team motivated as they play out the string, but to face a club that just might be in worst shape then you are just getting them interested is a challenge. Deserved or not, the Panthers’ staff has to take responsibility for the uninspired play. Grade: D
QUARTERBACK: Just when you thought that Cam Newton had magically grown up before everyone’s eyes, the petulant child returned which opened up the question, “Will he ever grow up?” The 23 year kicked (Raiders’ DT Desmond Bryant) and screamed (at referee Jerome Boger who he bumped drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct flag) and will ultimately he hearing from the commissioner’s office. The contact with Boger could result in Newton sitting out the final game of the season but assuredly his wallet will be a lot lighter.
Newton was understandably upset with all the piling on and what seemed like a never-ending string of hits long after he let go of the ball. Tackle Tommy Kelly even admitted after the game that the Raiders were trying to take him out as a kind of payback for the Panthers knocking Carson Palmer out in the first quarter, but he still has to play under control. He didn’t.
Newton also had a marvelous team record going, consecutive passes without being intercepted. He seemed unconcerned with it as he tried valiantly to have it come to an end earlier than it did so it was no surprise when rookie Miles Burris finally plucked a deflection out of the air to end the run at 176 straight. He avoids a failing grade only because he did just enough for the win. Grade: D
OFFENSE: Something happened after DeAngelo Williams busted a 76-yard touchdown scramble on the second play from scrimmage only to have it all go for naught because Steve Smith was flagged for holding: the offense went into hibernation. Carolina ran 59 plays, the same as Oakland, and managed just 271 yards against the team with the NFL’s worst defense. The ground game was barely visible gaining 112 of them although Cam Newton accounted for more than half that total with 60. And they scored just 17 points against a team that was giving up 28.1 coming in.
The Panthers had but one solid drive for a TD, an eight play, 88-yarder on their second possession, and the second and final six-pointer came late in the first half courtesy of a Luke Kuechly interception that set them up on the Raiders 29. The final two quarters only yielded a field goal. Like Newton, the win was the most important thing and the offense was not nearly as flawed as their quarterback. Grade: C-
DEFENSE: It was a hard hitting game to say the least and the referees might have been a tad overzealous when it came to throwing the big personal foul flags. Greg Hardy walloped Carson Palmer from behind and the replay seemed to show he hit the quarterback in the numbers only it was ruled he lowered his head to deliver the blow. There were many similar so-called flagrant fouls, on both sides, but the Palmer hit was the one to remember because it knocked him out of the game.
The overall defense was good and they were the only unit that appeared to show up prepared. Luke Kuechly entered the game with the second most tackles in the league and added 13 more, one for a loss along with an interception. Dwan Edwards recorded a sack and all the Raiders could manage was 189 total yards and just 47 on the ground and they made plays when they had to. Grade: B+
NOTABLES: When the Panthers knocked out Carson Palmer in the first quarter it brought in Matt Leinart at quarterback. With Cam Newton piloting Carolina, it was the first time since 1991 that three Heisman Trophy winners had played in the same game
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Panthers news, see CBS Sports Charlotte.
Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.