It may seem hard to believe for a guy who was the NFL’s rookie of the year back in 2011, but after last night’s win in Tampa Bay, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has a winning record for the first time in his up-and-down career.
The 24-year old and already third year player has started 1-3 in each of his first three seasons with the Panthers, but there’s something different about this year’s team.
Despite the fact that they are missing any big name playmakers on the back end, the Panthers’ defense has been very stout, ranking fourth against the run and eighth against the Pass. A big reason for that is the play of the men in the trenches, which the Panthers have done a great job of developing in recent years.
Along with Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson on the edges, the Panthers drafted Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short to play the defensive interior, and their linebackers are a very good group led by Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly another couple of first round picks.
With Ron Rivera coaching for his (coaching) life with the Panthers, it’s great to see this team finally start to step up a little bit. Cam Newton had a really down sophomore season in the NFL, and coupled with his terrible attitude appeared to be heading down the road that all busts travel.
However, Newton is a supremely talented player, and with the emergence of Ted Ginn Jr. and the added bonus of his chemistry already with Steve Smith and Greg Olsen, this Panthers offense is hitting a bit of a stride, scoring 30 or more points in all four of their wins so far this season.
Most importantly, the high-flying Panther offense that we all came to really enjoy watching in the 2011 season appears to be back in full force. Carolina might lose some games it shouldn’t, but they also might win some games they shouldn’t, and with the state of the NFC as it currently stands, I see no reason why they can’t at least contend for a wild-card spot all season long.
Their next test after an essential bye week will be the Atlanta Falcons coming into Carolina. Despite Atlanta’s record and major injuries, they can’t be counted out of any game at this point. Carolina still has a lot of work to do, especially if they want to catch up to Drew Brees and the Saints.
However, I was extremely impressed with what I saw last night and the way that this team is playing such great “team” football. In their four wins this year, the Panthers have outscored their opponents 134-38.
Keep that up, and you’ll find yourself playing deep into January.