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While you're talking about the suddenly scary Panthers after their offensive outburst on Monday night, keep in mind the defense was already poised to carry them

By Jacob Feldman
November 14, 2017

For as long as he's in Charlotte, Cam Newton will be the face of the Panthers. His celebrations, his clothes, his press conferences, his evolving playing style, it's all been discussed ad nauseam. But Newton isn't the biggest reason Carolina is 7-3, firmly in the NFC mix after a 45-21 victory over the Dolphins on Monday night. Instead, the Panthers are to be feared because of what happens when Newton is standing on the sideline—when All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly and the defense are on the field.

Coming into Monday, Carolina was 24th in offensive yards per game, carried by a defense that ranked first in yards allowed. On Monday, the defense put on another clinic, this time against one of the league's weaker attacks. With the home team up just three in the first half's final minute, Kuechly essentially ran tight end Julius Thomas's corner route, easily intercepting the Jay Cutler pass. Set up with a short field, Newton hit tight end Ed Dickson for a touchdown four plays later. On the other side of halftime, Miami attempted a run on fourth-and-1 at midfield. But there was Kuechly—along with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kawann Short—to stuff Damien Williams. The Dolphins finished with 313 yards (with that number bolstered by a Kenyan Drake 66-yard rushing score and a meaningless touchdown drive late). 

Today, Cam Newton deserves the discussion. He channeled his 2015 MVP form to the tune of four TD passes. And the rest of the offense found itself, too. Jonathan Stewart had his first 100-yard game of the year. Rookie Christian McCaffrey had his first multi-touchdown game as a pro. Look for the team to get better when center Ryan Kalil and tight end Greg Olsen get healthy and return to the lineup as well. But while you're talking about the suddenly scary Panthers, keep in mind the defense has carried them to this point. It hasn't gotten the buzz that other units have this season, but it's been every bit as good. And if Carolina makes another Super Bowl run, it will be the engine.

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1. Panthers 45, Dolphins 21. Sick of watching Miami in primetime? After three straight weeks, we get some time off from the Dolphins. (They will be back though, facing the Patriots on a Monday night in December.)

2. GQ named Colin Kaepernick one if its Men of the Year (along with Kevin Durant, Stephen Colbert and Gal Gadot). For the occasion, the likes of Ava DuVernay and Harry Belafonte spoke about the former 49ers QB. "In my 90th year of life, to see people like Colin Kaepernick having gotten the message and carrying the cause forward is the greatest reward I could ask for," Belafonte said. On Instagram, Kaepernick said he was honored by the award.

3. Despite the Giants' loss to previously winless San Francisco, ownership expressed its support for coach Ben McAdoo Monday. "While we appreciate that our fans are unhappy with what has occurred, nobody is more upset than we are," the owners said in a statement. "Our plan is to do what we have always done, which is to not offer a running commentary on the season. It is our responsibility to determine the reasons for our poor performance and at the end of the year, we will evaluate the 2017 season in its entirety and make a determination on how we move forward."

4. Week 10 brought several more instances of teams receiving scrutiny for their concussion testing protocols, notably in Indianapolis, where Jacoby Brissett was allowed to return to the game after receiving a hit to the back of the head. Chuck Pagano defended the team's handling of the situation.

5. Asked about claims that refs provoked Vontaze Burfict's actions before he was ejected Sunday, Marvin Lewis said he wasn't buying it. "The officials have a job to do," the Bengals coach said. "I've explained this to Vontaze. He understands that. They have a job to do . . . We don't need to jaw with anyone after the play, any of the players."

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6. The Packers finally have a formula for success with Brett Hundley. It involved running the ball more times in a game than Green Bay had since 2015.

7. The Vikings are 7-2 thanks in part to Pat Shurmur's expansive playbook, "culled from his upbringing in the West Coast offense and flavored with influences from his days as Chip Kelly's offensive coordinator in Philadelphia," with "enough elements that the Vikings are hard to typecast." As for who will execute those plays this week, Case Keenum or Teddy Bridgewater? Mike Zimmer isn't ready to say.

8. The story of Marquise Goodwin's emotional Sunday has gone mainstream. The 49ers wideout and his wife lost their son early Sunday morning after a premature delivery. In the afternoon, he fell to his knees in the end zone following an 83-yard touchdown.

9. Now, the injury report. The Cowboys could be without linebacker Sean Lee (hamstring) for nearly a month. A shin injury will end first-round CB Gareon Conley's rookie season in Oakland. Philip Rivers is in the concussion protocol after playing all of an overtime loss in Jacksonville. And a bit of good news: Cardinals running back David Johnson had his left wrist cast removed.

10. Ahead of Thursday night's matchup with the Titans, Ben Roethlisberger joined the group of players railing against the concept of midweek games. "It's miserable. It's terrible," he said. "They need to get rid of this game."

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