By Ted Fleming
There’s an old saying that if you are going out, go out with a bang. That’s exactly what the Panthers did in New Orleans on Sunday in their final game of the 2012 season, scoring more points than the third best offense by attacking the league worst defense, not just this season but in the history of the entire National Football League, allowing more yards than anyone else.
If this was to be DeAngelo Williams’ final game in Carolina, he gave everyone with something to remember. He set a personal and team record by rumbling from sideline to sideline, goal line to goal racking up 210 yards and now has four of the ten best rushing performances in team annals.
But it was an all-around effort by the entire Panthers’ squad that gave Ron Rivera a belated Christmas gift, a fourth win in a row to finish 7-9 after starting the season 1-6 and a sweep of the New Orleans Saints. The only thing left on the agenda of the head coach is to meet with owner Jerry Richardson to see if he will be back for another season or look for someone in need of a solid defensive coordinator.
Here is a look at how the Panthers came away with 44-38 win on the Saints home turf:
Coaching: The commitment to the ground game paid huge dividends in the season finale not just because Williams had such a huge game but it allowed Cam Newton to have a statistical day off and still come away with a victory. On defense it was a bend, not break mentality against a Saints’ squad that can score on just about anyone as witnessed by their 28.8 points per game average. They forced Drew Brees to be a one-man show by slowing a mediocre ground game to where they rushed for 35 yards less than their season’s average. Grade: A
Quarterback: The numbers will not jump off the page at you but Cam Newton was good enough. That is all that really matters in the NFL, but what Cam Newton did in the final game of the year has more to do with what won’t show up in the stats – the grit and determination of a leader.
The 23-year old closed out his second professional season with a veteran-like performance probably more focused than any game before it. Even when he was on the sideline getting taped up for any one of his many bumps, bruises or sprains, he followed every play on the big board as if he was a member of the coaching staff. The stats line is the only thing that kept Newton from getting a top mark. Grade: B+
Offense: For a group that looked a lot like Raggedy Andy most of the season because of injuries and whatnot, it was arguably their best game of the season. Sure there were the inevitable breakdowns, but the bottom line here is that they made sure a bad defense remained that way opening up huge holes for DeAngelo Williams all afternoon. And for the second game in a row Cam Newton did not have to be the leading rusher. Williams personal best day was 186 and the Panthers’ all-time leading rusher with 5,784 had such a big day he nearly pushed past Newton falling four yards short of being the top runner in 2012. Grade: A
Defense: This was the biggest area of concern going in. Sure the Panthers had the eighth best in the league and were likely the most underrated unit in the entire league but this was Drew Brees in search of writing a new chapter in his already illustrious career. The Saints’ QB did get his 5,000 yards for the third time and second season in a row and he did get to 40 passing touchdowns but he didn’t get the victory and for the Cats that is the most important stat of the day. Brees was sacked twice and picked off once and he had to work for everything he got. Grade: A
Notes: The Panthers racked up 273 yards on the ground, a new franchise mark. Greg Olsen became the team’s all-time single season leaders in yards by a tight end with 873 pushing him past Wesley Walls (822). Defensive end Charles Johnson needed one sack to move past Kevin Green into third place on the Panthers’ all-time list. He got two. By getting their fourth win in a row, it marked the eighth time the Panthers have had a streak of as many games in their 18 year history.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.