The Carolina Panthers went out in Week 2, threw 51 passes with a battered Cam Newton in an uncharacteristic setting, and lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their own stadium. After a few weeks of good Panthers defense, thumping cliff and some heart-beating moments that are characteristic of the Heart Cats during times of success, the Panthers came out and added their football tag (sans Cam Newton) and won.
The Panthers tag to win football since Ron Rivera took over has never been beautiful, as they run the football ad and play defense in a way that seems to exploit the mistakes of the other team. It has always been a conservative form of football, and it has not always worked, especially in a league where being aggressive has tended to pay dividends. But with Kyle Allen at the helm, the Panthers needed to lean on these philosophies, and they performed as well as one could ask. However, some deviations from these philosophies have been required for some time, and this week they managed to do so.
In this week's game, the Panthers offense needed to find a way to win outside Christian McCaffrey to be successful, and Norv Turner responded by letting Kyle Allen throw the football a little more. We knew the Buccaneers were going to play the game to cancel McCaffrey's efficiency, and that forced the Panthers to throw the ball a little more than usual. The Arizona Cardinals game aside (and their awful defense), the Panthers leaned on McCaffrey for offensive production, and while he still got twice this week, his stats weren't quite what we've seen in recent weeks. Instead, the Panthers were forced to turn to DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel to deliver in the passing game, and they finally did so after a bit of a rocky start. Moore led the team with seven catches for 73 yards, with a total of 86 yards from scrimmage. Curtis Samuel took four passes for 70 yards and one touchdown, along with an eight yard rushing touchdown. Greg Olsen took four passes for 52 yards. They pushed the ball down the field and showed confidence in Allen to make those throws.
This Panthers offense has won by turning in very rushing numbers, but when the team could only average two turns per boat collectively, the other fasters of this Panthers team needed to rise. The passing game delivered 227 colors and two touchdowns, which is not a top change offense, but it is the kind of performance that can win football games when you pair it with this growing Panthers defense. The team kicked Jameis Winston seven times, forced five interceptions and recovered two fumbles. The scoreboard doesn't show that, but this Panthers defense dominated a strong Buccaneers offense.
The reason I mention these things is quite simple; it seemed like the Panthers were dead in the water when we learned that Cam Newton would be out for a long period. Although many will point to Kyle Allen's win / loss record, this team is actually delivering as a whole to keep the Panthers this season, and right now they are controlling their own destiny. For the first time in years, this team does not need to put all their eggs in a basket to win games. Kyle Allen has shown he can run and command the offense, and they can step up when Christian McCaffrey can't make all the games needed to win. The defense continues to make it extremely difficult for any crime to get into rhythm. They continue to force turnover, as Thieves Avenue is open and flourishing again. They look like the dominant defenses we've seen push the Panthers in after the season.
For me, the optimism comes from watching the Panthers deliver good performance from every aspect of the team over the past few weeks. While Christian McCaffrey should continue to be debated as a potential MVP candidate, he does not pull this team kicking and screaming for success. The Panthers ride the wave of momentum created by some of his outstanding performances. The defense plays confidence, and we see a lot more aggression on that side of the ball. The Panthers continue to do so, and I'm really excited to see a healthy Cam Newton play with a team that performs so well without him right now. But in the event that he can't come back after goodbye, I am convinced that this team will have a plan and that Kyle Allen will continue to deliver the achievements needed to win. Now is the time to rest up and enjoy the victory.