On Monday night, the Carolina Panthers issued a message to the rest of the NFL. The Panthers are a force to be reckoned with.
After struggling running the ball in the first eight games of the year, the Panthers have turned in consecutive 200-yard rushing performances, capped by a huge day from Jonathan Stewart against the Miami Dolphins. Stewart led all running backs with 17 carries and 110 yards in the 45-21 blowout win.
However, it was the play of 2015 MVP Cam Newton that put the Dolphins away. Newton finished the day with four touchdown passes, including two connections for scores with Devin Funchess. The first score for Funchess came in the third quarter on a wide receiver screen where Newton faked downfield, turned to his left and found Funchess by the line of scrimmage. Running back Christian McCaffrey issued a fantastic clearout block on two Dolphins defenders, and Funchess did the rest, exploding for 28 yards after the catch.
Newton’s first touchdown pass of the game came with less than a minute left in the opening half. After Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler threw an interception to middle linebacker Luke Kuechly deep in Miami territory, Newton marched his offense downfield. He connected with tight end Ed Dickson on a seven-yard slant route to put his team up 17-7 at the intermission.
In the second half, Newton was even better as he threw three more scores. McCaffrey was the benefit of one of those scores, making an acrobatic diving grab with 3:07 left in the third quarter for a 38-14 lead.
The most exciting play of the game came on the first play of that drive. With the Panthers on its own 13 yard-line, Newton ran the read option, faked it to his running back and ran. He exploded up the middle past multiple Dolphins defenders and kept going. The Dolphins finally took the 6’5 quarterback down, but not before he ran 69 yards and set up his offense in the red zone. It was the nail in the coffin and Newton was thrilled as he danced on the ground in celebration.
It was an impressive display by a team that is finally finding its own identity. After struggling running the football for much of the season, the Panthers have turned in two straight 200-yard performances. The strong rushing attack has allowed Newton to effectively use both the read option and play action passing plays.
The Panthers are on bye this week before voyaging to New York to take on the Jets. With six games left on the schedule and Carolina seated a half-game behind the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South race, every game counts. If the Panthers continue to look the way they did against the Dolphins, they will be a tough team to stop.
If you would like to receive an email each time a new Carolina Panthers article is published, fill out our email notification form.