I re-watched the Green Bay at Carolina game yesterday, and there's some issues that really set off alarms as the game progressed. Everyone knows what to expect form the Packers, and they didn't disappoint anyone. They trailed 13-0 early but were able to quickly overcome that deficit. The Panthers aided the Packers with mistake after mistake.
Before we dive into the full body of the analysis, I want to note that this article will center largely around Cam Newton. Yes, the Packers overcame an early deficit with drive after drive of championship football, but Newton is the biggest story out of the Panthers this season, and the Panthers live and die by his level of play.
As I mentioned earlier, the Panthers were able to quickly jump out to a 13-0 lead on the Packers, and much of that lead can be credited to Cam Newton. On the opening drive of the game, the Panthers simply marched down the field. There was nothing extraordinary about the drive, unless you consider that the Carolina Panthers made the Green Bay Packers' defense look slow and out of position.
On the drive, Newton made every play he was asked to. He showed that he's not just a running quarterback. He made all the throws, and he made them with precision.
On the ensuing kick-off, the Packers promptly fumbled the ball away, giving it back to the Panthers in terrific field position. This is where the first cracks in the Panthers' foundation began to appear. They weren't able to push their advantage to 14 points. Instead, they settled for a 20 yard field goal. Normally, I wouldn't criticize a call to kick a field goal making the score 10-0, but this is the Panthers against the Packers. One of these teams will play meaningful football in December, and it isn't the Panthers. There's no reason to not go for the touchdown. More on this later.
The Packers' first real possession was an uneventful 5 play drive that handed the ball quickly back to Cam Newton and the Panthers. At this point in the game, I was thinking, "Okay, so when do we get to see the real Packers?" As it turned out, they were just about to make their appearance.
The second quarter started with the fizzle of another Panthers drive. This time, the Panthers settled for a 33 yard field goal, pushing their lead to 13-0. As a viewer, I couldn't help but think that the Panthers hadn't built enough of a lead to win. That notion turned out to be correct.
The Packers' next possession was all about rhythm. At points, the Packers ran a no-huddle offense on this drive, but the real story was the fact that Rodgers finally hit his stride, which spelled doom for the Panthers. It took just 4:50 for the Packers drive 80 yards and get a touchdown. With just 1 drive, the Packers turned what should have been a 3 possession lead into a 1 score game. Any comfort that Carolina fans must have felt from the first quarter vanished instantly.
The rest of the quarter was spent in a scoreless back and forth type of action. The biggest noteworthy event there was that Newton threw his first of 3 interceptions.
Within the first 3 minutes of the 3rd quarter, the Packers had claimed the lead for the first time in the game. This touchdown drive was progressing rather routinely when Rodgers hit Greg Jennings on a 49 yard bomb for the score. Really, the play was the result of a busted coverage. The pass wasn't all that good, but it really only had to be catch-able. There just wasn't a Panthers player anywhere near enough to break it up.
It was at this point that Cam Newton decided to really implode. To this point, the Panthers had went toe to toe with the defending Super Bowl champions, but then Newton decided to pick on Charles Woodson. Big mistake, and it cost the Panthers the ball. It was also Newton's second interception of the game.
To the Panthers' credit, they were able to hold the Packers to a field goal, maintaining a one-score deficit.
Unfortunately, the Panthers were in a giving mood in the 3rd quarter, and their next drive persisted for just 2 plays. Steve Smith was running towards the sideline when he decided it was okay to hold the ball with one hand, away from his body. The defender simply popped the ball out, and Woodson was on the spot again, this time with a fumble recovery. The play was even more devastating considering that Smith was literally 1 yard from the sideline when the ball came out. It was another drive wasted, and the Packers cashed in again.
The Packers marched down the field, but their drive stalled, and they settled for a 19 yard field goal. It was the right call. It made the score 20-13 in favor of the Packers, and they were the big dog on the block. Here's my rule. If you're the under-dog, you go for it. If you're the over-dog, you take the points. That's why a 19 yard field-goal was the right call, even though they could have went for the throat.
As bad as the quarter had been to this point, Cam Newton and the Panthers weren't finished with their charity work. Just 3 plays into the ensuing drive, Newton was picked off for the 3rd time in the game. This was once again turned into 3 points for the Packers, and they led 23-13 after 3 quarters of play. At this point, the outlook was bleak for the Panthers, especially after squandering such a nice, early lead.
The Panthers started the 4th quarter with a very nice 13 play drive that stalled inside the 5 yard line. This time, they settled for a 21 yard field goal. In this case, it was the right call to take the points. It made it a 7 point game with plenty of time to play left on the clock.
Following a short Packers drive, the Panthers had the ball with a chance to tie the game. They drove the ball inside the 10 yard line, and that's when Newton showed that he was still a rookie.
His first mistake only cost his team a couple of yards. He scrambled outside the pocket and was chased out of bounds for a 2 yard loss. He could have literally underhanded the ball 2 yards forward, out of bounds and saved himself 2 yards. Instead, he kept the ball, and was "sacked" by Clay Matthews.
His biggest mistake came on 3rd and 1. I expected a quarterback draw of some sort, and I was sorta-kinda right. On the play, Newton scrambled all the way to the sideline before being sacked for a 3 yard loss. Someone needs to send Newton the following message, "You can throw the ball away outside the pocket!" The sack brought up a much more difficult 4th and 4. Newton ran the ball on the play, but he only gained 3 yards, turning the ball over to the Packers.
Many teams in this situation would have simply ran the ball and tried to kill the clock. Not the Packers. They came out playing for the win, and they connected on an 84 yard touchdown pass that sealed the game.
The Panthers were able to score a touchdown of their own with less than a minute to play, but they were unable to recover the onside kick. The Packers won the game 30-23.
The Panthers should have won this game. I said it. They were held back by Newton's mistakes, as well as defensive lapses and an ill-timed fumble. Newton will get a great chance to win this weekend against the Jaguars and Blaine Gabbert.
My concern about the Panthers is that they're throwing the ball way too much. Newton threw the ball 46 times against the Packers. They ran it 21 times, and 10 of those runs were by Newton. That's too much responsibility, and they're setting him up to fail. Defenses know they're throwing the ball, and the Packers were able to tee-off on Newton all after-noon. That type of one-sided play calling needs to end if the Panthers want Newton to survive at the pro level.
As for the Packers, what can we say? They shot themselves in the foot early, but they were able to overcome that deficit and win the game. Sure, they're a much better team than the Panthers, but a 13 point deficit is nothing to sneeze at. The Packers showed why they're the defending champs against Carolina.
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