It's well past time to stop pretending that the Panthers are a one-dimensional team and take Cam Newton and their offense seriously, following their victory against the Packers.
Two teams have scored at least 20 points in every game this season: New England and Carolina.
No one would put those offenses in the same category—the Patriots boast what has been far and away the league's most explosive attack this season. It's well past time, though, to stop pretending that the Panthers are a one-dimensional team without an offense to match their stalwart defense.
The latest statement came Sunday in a 37–29 win over. The Packers have been exposed a bit the past two weeks, during a brutal stretch of back-to-back road games at Denver and Carolina (combined record headed into Sunday: 14–0). The Panthers offered them no respite early, hanging 24 unanswered points on the scoreboard during a thoroughly dominant second quarter.
Cam Newton again led the way, accounting for four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing). The defense then bailed him out late after he threw a rather inexcusable interception with his team up by eight.
This remains the frustrating part of Newton's game: each week, there are a handful of throws that he probably wishes he could have back. On top of the interception, he also missed a wide open Jerricho Cotchery on what would have been a touchdown in the third quarter; instead, his team settled for a field goal.
The good still far outweighs the bad. Newton and his offense spent three quarters or so dissecting a frustrated Green Bay defense.
“The evolution of our offense,” coach Ron Rivera told The MMQB's Jenny Vrentas this week, “has been as much the evolution of Cam.”
Newton had a 59-yard completion to Cotchery (on third-and-16, no less), a 52-yard deep bomb to Devin Funchess and a gorgeous 39-yard touchdown to Philly Brown. Take note that those huge gains came courtesy of three different receivers. Reliable TE Greg Olsen also caught a touchdown, while Stewart rushed for 66 yards.
The Panthers' offense may not be loaded with superstars at running back and receiver, but the players who are on the field have grown more dangerous by the week.
The next step for Carolina, on both sides of the ball, is to prevent the fourth-quarter letdowns that have occurred the past two weeks. Indianapolis ripped off 17 straight points to force overtime last Monday, then the Packers scored 15 in short order to make a game of it.
Carolina's fatigued defense eventually did answer the bell each time, first with an OT interception of Andrew Luck (after the Colts and Panthers traded field goals), then Sunday by stuffing the Packers inside the five with the game on the line.
So, it hasn't been perfect for the Panthers. Their record still is, however.
The 8–0 start and command of the NFC South could be just the beginning if the offense continues to improve over the second half of the season. Again, the Panthers would prefer Newton cut down on his mistakes, but they may just have to accept them as par for the course. Most weeks, he has more than made up for them.
Sunday's performance also hushes anyone drawing statistical parallels between Newton, widely considered an MVP candidate, and 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, who was benched in favor of Blaine Gabbert this week. Newton's late-game turnover was reminiscent of his Bay Area counterpart, but the stats far from tell the whole story—on either side. While Kaepernick's performance has been brutal at times, he's also been victimized by the lack of coherent play around him this season.
Meanwhile, Newton's impact extends far, far beyond what any stats can show. Case in point: On a third-and-7 in the third quarter Sunday, Carolina spread the field with Newton in the shotgun and Stewart next to him. After surveying the Green Bay defense, Newton made a pre-snap adjustment, then handed off to Stewart, who bounced outside for an eight-yard run.
That's the type of play to which Rivera is referring when he talks up Newton's maturation.
Whether you want to credit Newton in full or not, his supporting cast absolutely deserves a pat on the block for its play. Remember, not all that long ago, the only conversation surrounding Carolina was just how doomed their offense was after Kelvin Benjamin's season-ending injury.
Turns out—much as is the case in New England—the whole is better than the sum of its parts.