MINNEAPOLIS – The Carolina Panthers (2-3) showed up…big…completely dominating the emotion-laced Minnesota Vikings (1-4) Sunday. The Vikings outstanding running back, Adrian Peterson was grieving his 2-year-old son’s senseless death and the team seemed to be joining him. This does not mean, in any way, to denigrate the outstanding game played by the Panthers. All aspects – offense, defense and special teams – played as well as they could, and that being said, I must re-evaluate last week’s writing-off of this team.
The Panthers (2-3) moved within a game of .500 and will face St. Louis next week at home. In victories against the Giants (0-6) and Vikings (1-4), the Panthers have outscored their opponents 73-10. The Panthers’ 62-yard opening drive – which lasted nine minutes 29 seconds over 15 plays – took some of the buzz out of the Metrodome, which is being demolished after the season for a new stadium that will open in 2016.
Quarterback Cam Newton was outstanding, completed 20 of 26 passes for 242 yards, and added 30 yards and a touchdown on the ground. His 76.9 completion percentage was the second-best of his three-year career. Newton finished with a career-high passer rating of 143.4, and, for you fantasy players, he was the top-rated quarterback yesterday. The offensive line gave Newton plenty of protection, a far cry from last week’s Debacle in the Desert when he was sacked seven times.
Wide receiver Brandon LaFell continue to improve, playing solidly all game and caught a 79-yard touchdown pass on the third play in the second half. And, the team’s vocal leader, wide receiver Steve Smith and No. 3 wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. seemed to really enjoy themselves, putting big hits on the Vikings’ defensive backs. They do like physical play, these two.
The table is now set for the Panthers and it will be interesting to see what they bring when the Rams come into Bank of America Stadium next week. St. Louis is coming off a huge win at Houston, a game in which they were as dominant as the Panthers were in Minnesota. That game is followed by a short week…but the good news is that on Thursday night, Oct. 24, they play at the hapless, and winless, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. So, coming home to host the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 3, the home crowd could be seeing a team with a 4-3 mark, and looking to continue their move towards the playoffs. Interesting what ONE really good game can do to a team (and a writer)!
Here’s What They’re Saying:
Left tackle Jordan Gross: “That first drive we marched it down the field pretty methodically. To have coach Rivera give us the go-ahead on two fourth-and-1s, to call that consecutively on one drive is a pretty gutsy call for a head coach. It meant a lot to us that he would do that. It meant a lot to him that we held up our end of the bargain.”
Head coach Ron Rivera: “It’s what we’re going to do and we’re going to do the best we can to make things happen. I think these guys bought into it. I think that showing a little confidence and faith in them has really helped them.” “We had a couple things set up for last week as well we would have liked to have used. But we never put ourselves in a positive position. And again if you can be creative it keeps people off balance. We’ve got several weapons right now. I think Ted Ginn is keeping people off balance. … We’ve got a weapon at tight end and our running backs (131 yards) are playing very well as a group.”
Cam Newton on Rivera’s early aggressiveness: “It means a lot. Being in a hostile environment, and knowing that we need an edge in this game, we went for it. For him to trust us means a lot and it speaks volumes. He’s a defensive coach by nature, so he always has that conservative mentality. But I think he is kind of breaking his mold to a degree, and giving the whole team confidence with him.”
Steve Smith on, what he felt, was a negative: “I think for the most part for about three quarters offensively we played pretty good last week. The only negative part was the receivers let the offense down. This week we wanted to make sure it didn’t fall on us, that we’d be accountable, that people would depend on us, that we could be reliable. And I think we did that as far as catching the ball, running good routes and also blocking.”
Panthers’ defensive coordinator Sean McDermott often put eight defenders near the line of scrimmage to slow Adrian Peterson and force quarterback Matt Cassel to beat them: “You’re talking about one of the best backs, if not the best back, to come along in some time. He squirted through a couple creases that were 6 inches sometimes. It’s hard to keep him in check. We were able to do a little of that today.”
Adrian Peterson on the Panthers defense: “Those guys did a good job of tackling and making it hard on us. We got behind the eight-ball early and it kind of took us out of our game plan that we had. We just offensively, defensively didn’t get it done.”
Linebacker Thomas Davis had an outstanding day. When asked what it was like to rush the quarterback and the offense is surprised there’s nobody between you and him: “Oh, man. Your eyes get big and you just go. Try to hit it the same way each time so there’s never a letdown. You don’t know you (if you’ll) come free. Just have to make sure you rush ‘em hard.”
Smith, in his 13th season, let everyone know he thinks this is a team to be reckoned with: “What happened (Sunday) is a team that seems to understand the importance of where we are right now. We understand where we are in our careers and also understand where our season is and where we can go. Guys understand and trust the techniques that we’re taught, and the coaches trust the ability of the players and we’re able to do things in a way they understand. So it’s a lot of give and take. It’s a lot of pulling and prodding. And I think it doesn’t help with the news about (Rivera) being on the hot seat.
“I think it’s a team that seems to be waking up.”
And Panthers fans everywhere have to believe that!