By Danny Cox
On Thursday, the Carolina Panthers will travel to Tampa Bay to take on the Buccaneers and look to move their record above .500 for the first time since 2008.
Coach Ron Rivera knows that is not something to take lightly, and he didn’t attempt to hide his excitement when asked about it early this week.
“That’s huge,” said Rivera. “Because we’re relevant.”
In 2011 and 2012, the Panthers opened up the season with identical records of 1-5. Now, they sit with a record of 3-3 and in second place in the NFC South. If New Orleans hadn’t shot out to a 5-1 start, the distance between first and second would be a lot closer than it is now.
Still, the Panthers are coming into their own and have gotten a lot of their issues out of the way early this season. One of the things that Carolina has this year is a defense that knows how to stop anyone that lines up across from them on the field.
At almost the midway point of the season, the Panthers have the third ranked defense in the NFL by being fourth against the run and fifth against the pass. The credit can’t go to just one person, either. It belongs to Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson, Mike Mitchell, and many others.
Teams are afraid to run the ball against Carolina because they know they won’t go anywhere. But the bigger problem is that they fear passing the ball thanks to nine interceptions by the Panthers so far this season.
The team is tied for sixth in takeaway/giveaway ratio at plus-five.
On the other side of the ball, Cam Newton is finally playing like many expected him to play and how he did when he first entered the NFL. Actually, he’s playing even better than he did back then and his stats show it.
Newton currently ranks 10th in the league in passer rating and is second in the NFL in third-down rating with 114.3. If you’re wondering who is the lone quarterback ahead of him in that department; it just so happens to be the future Hall of Famer, Peyton Manning.
With targets such as Greg Olsen, Ted Ginn, Brandon LaFell and Steve Smith, it’s kind of hard to not have success.
The thing is that Newton is making his own success by coming into his own. He is becoming a better pocket passer and an overall leader for the Panthers. He doesn’t just have to always use his legs as he is managing his pocket presence better and turning into a full quarterback.
The dangerous part is that he can still run, and teams always have to be ready for it.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to head into Thursday night’s game as a desperate team looking to get their first win of the season. The Carolina Panthers will be heading to Florida as a team that is not just looking to get to .500, but one that has the talent and focus for the playoffs.
For more Carolina Panthers news and updates, visit Carolina Panthers Central.
Danny Cox knows a little something about the NFL, whether it means letting you know what penalty will come from the flag just thrown on the field or quickly spouting off who the Chicago Bears drafted in the first round of the 1987 draft (Jim Harbaugh). He plans on bringing you the best news, previews, recaps, and anything else that may come along with the exciting world of the National Football League. Danny is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.