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Panthers Thoughts – Week Sixteen: Winning Ugly

Week 16 thoughts on the Carolina Panthers ugly victory over the Oakland Raiders.

The second play of the game between the Carolina Panthers and Oakland Raiders went like this: DeAngelo Williams breaks a 76 yard run for a touchdown, Steve Smith gets called for holding, the play doesn’t count. That set the tone for the rest of the game. Over the course of the 60 minutes, the teams combined for 16 penalties for 167 yards including a number of personal fouls.

This was an absolutely ugly game on both sides of the ball.

The Panthers offense looked good in the first half, scoring two touchdowns and effectively moving the ball for the most part. Cam Newton hit Smith for a 23 yard touchdown after scrambling out of the pocket for the first score of the game and then Newton scrambled for a touchdown of his own for the teams second score. Newton made all the right plays in the first half, both with his arm and his legs. The second half wasn’t quite as pretty. The team failed to do anything with the ball and Cam threw his first interception since week nine. To be fair to him, it wasn’t quite his fault as the ball took a weird deflection on a pass to Smith, but it still goes down in the books as an interception.

Cam also lost his cool a couple of times in the second half, kicking at a defensive player who wouldn’t get off of him and yelling at a ref for not calling a penalty when he was driven into the ground. This is the type of thing he needs to get under control in the future. It was an ugly game with a lot of penalties and the second half was very frustrating for him, but he needs to keep his cool and rally the team around him. Let Smith be the intense one. Cam needs to be the calm one. And to his credit, in the fourth quarter, with the team up eight and needing a score to ice things, Cam took care of the ball running and passing to set up a long field goal.

The defense played another fantastic game, minus the penalties of course. Greg Hardy knocked Carson Palmer out of the game early, forcing Matt Leinart to come in. He fared about as well as Palmer would’ve had he stayed in the game. Leinart ended up with just over 100 yards passing, but that’s mainly because he threw short, dump off passes and his playmakers did the rest of the work. Once again, Luke Kuechly stood out above everyone else. He had 13 total tackles to lead the team and recorded his first career interception. No one is talking about the defensive rookie of the year award, but I have to believe that Kuechly is the front runner.

The special teams continue to be a problem. Graham Gano missed a 48 yard field goal, although he did make up for that by making a 51 yard field goal later on. Punt returner Joe Adams fumbled the ball and has continued to be unproductive as a returner in his rookie season. I still maintain the the team is better off fair catching everything and always going for it on fourth down.

The Panthers are now 6-9, which means at worst they’ll finish with the same record they had last season. Is that enough to save Ron Rivera’s job? I hope not. The team will be getting a new general manager and my hope is that he’ll want to bring in his own coach. But stranger things have happened.

The last game of the season is next week. It’s been a disappointing season, but these last few weeks have been nice and this team has made some steps towards improvement. If they could just figure out how to win close games, they could be a contending team. Hopefully they figure that out next season. With a new head coach.

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