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Panthers Thoughts – Week Fifteen: Dominating Too Late

Week fifteen thoughts on the Carolina Panthers dominating victory over the San Diego Chargers.

The Carolina Panthers are really good in meaningless games. Last year, after a brutal start, they put together a nice stretch and gave fans hope heading into this season. It’s been pretty the same story this year. A lot of close losses early in the year, fall out of the playoff picture, and now build on things heading into next year.

Maybe the team just needs to win the coin toss seeing as they’re 2-0 this year when they win the toss. After electing to receive, Cam Newton drove the offense 80 yards down the field and capped it off with a Mike Tolbert touchdown. The biggest play of the drive was a 4th and 1 QB keeper that Cam was able to convert. Tolbert scored on the next play. It was a very efficient drive for the offense. There was only one big pass play, a 20-yard completion to Gary Barnridge, but otherwise Cam took what the defense gave him and let his playmakers do the rest of the work. They were helped out by a personal foul by the Chargers defense and that turned out to be the first of many mistakes by the Chargers throughout the day. The drive took over six minutes off the clock and they mixed things up with their run and pass play calling.

Of course an opening drive score for the offense can be moot if the defense can’t protect it. The defense really showed up in this game. They were helped out on the first drive as the ball slipped out of Philip Rivers’ and the ball was recovered by the defense. That turnover led to another Tolbert touchdown, giving the Panthers an early 14-0 lead.

After that is when the defense started to dominate, particularly Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. They each had two sacks and seemed to be in the backfield all day, either making Rivers uncomfortable or blowing up run plays. Rivers ended up finishing the game with just 121 yards passing and four fumbles, two of which were lost.

The Panthers took a 31-0 lead into the 4th quarter, but lost the shutout early in the quarter as DeAngelo Williams lost a fumble late in the third and the Chargers cashed in on the short field. Besides the Williams fumble and subsequent touchdown, the team played a nearly flawless game.

Cam Newton was once again brilliant. No one is talking about him now because the team is winning these meaningless games, but he’s been very good over the past few weeks. He once again went another game without a turnover, which shows that he’s growing as a decision maker. He’s making quicker decisions, taking what the defense gives him, and protecting the ball. He got banged up a little bit in this game, but he continued to hang in there and ended up with 230 yards passing and 2 touchdowns. He didn’t show off his running skills, but that was due to Williams and Tolbert, who both turned in outstanding games.

Williams continues to be a huge part of the offense with Jonathan Stewart down and he’s responded with multiple good games in the row. He had the fumble in the 3rd that led to the Chargers score, but otherwise he was outstanding. He finished with 93 yards rushing, 51 yards receiving, and a touchdown. Tolbert may have been the best player on the offensive side though. It was clear that he wanted to have a big game against his former team and he did just that. He only had 40 yards rushing and 23 yards receiving, but he had the two big touchdowns early and led the way on a lot of Williams’ carries.

Even though I’ve called for Ron Rivera to be fired multiple times, I think he’s dangerously close to saving his job. If the team wins their final two games, they’ll finish 7-9, which is a one win improvement over last season. Even though it’s only one win, it still shows some improvement and management might decide to keep him around. I hope not, because I don’t think things are going to change next year and it’s been proven that he can’t win close games, but improvement is still improvement and the Panthers are still a young team who have been decimated with injuries these past two years.

A loss to Oakland next week pretty much seals Rivera’s fate though. And improves the teams draft position. So here’s hoping.

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