Cam Newton's unprecedented rookie success helped transform Carolina's last-ranked offense into an explosive juggernaut seemingly overnight.
The Panthers totaled fewer yards than any NFL team in 2010. But the silver lining inside Carolina's league worst 2-14 record ultimately proved worthwhile.
The first overall pick in the 2011 draft was used to select a national championship quarterback from Auburn whom some considered unprepared for the next level. An unimpressive preseason stirred angst amongst a faithful fan base as many began to question the organizational decision.
One year later, there isn't a critic in Carolina.
In just one season, Cam Newton and company leap-frogged 25 teams in terms of total offense. The last-ranked unit in 2010 finished seventh in 2011, and the rookie's success helped account for four additional wins.
While the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner shattered rookie passing records from day one in Carolina, it was the ground game that propelled the Panthers to a record of 6-10.
The deadliest rushing attack in the entire NFL consisted of a three-man backfield including Newton, Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Together, the trio rushed for a league-leading 26 touchdowns (14 of which were courtesy of the quarterback), and averaged more yards per carry (5.4) than any other team.
Now, the theme in Carolina is a little different entering the 2012 regular season.
Expectations have risen, and there isn't much that could exceed them. Superbowl guarantees highlighted the Panthers' otherwise uneventful offseason, and an MVP-caliber performance from Newton wouldn't shock anyone.
The commonly known "last-to-first" NFC South has proven to be one of the league's most unpredictable divisions in recent years. And with the Saints surly scandal looming, it could be Carolina's time.
With 16 games of film and a year's time, league-wide adjustments from opposing defenses are definite. No longer will coordinators dare Newton to pass. Never again will teams underestimate his ability.
So a balanced offense is key. And despite the continual transition into a quarterback-friendly league, it might be the passing game that complements the rushing attack in Carolina.
Here is why the Panthers' backfield will be the key to success in 2012-13.