Carolina Panthers Week 1 Awards: MVP, LVP and Top Rookie

Stephen FenechCorrespondent ISeptember 10, 2012

Carolina Panthers Week 1 Awards: MVP, LVP and Top Rookie

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    The Carolina Panthers fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1 by a score of 16-10. While the Panthers didn't play very well, there is no reason to panic at this point. One game does not define a season. 

    For all we know, the Bucs could be on their way to winning the NFC South and hosting a playoff game. Such is the nature of the NFL, where competitive parity is a reality and there are shocking results on a weekly basis.

    What we do know is that the rushing offense was nonexistent, as the Panthers gained just 10 yards all game. Considering that the Panthers have a very talented backfield—even without Jonathan Stewart—that number is nothing short of jaw-dropping.

    The defense performed very well in the second half and gave the offense a chance to get something going. While the Panthers were in striking range for the entire second half, Cam Newton and the offense couldn't sustain drives against Mark Barron and the Bucs defense.

    With the New Orleans Saints coming to town, Ron Rivera will have to rally the troops and put them in the best chance to win. If the Panthers are unable to overcome the Saints at home, they will start 0-2 and things could start slipping away.   

MVP: Steve Smith

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    Steve Smith didn't catch any passes in the first quarter, but he wasted little time after that making things happen for the Carolina Panthers. 

    On a day in which the Panthers had a hard time scoring, Smith hauled in seven catches for 106 yards but failed to find the end zone.

    He accounted for more than a third of Newton's passing yards and was accountable for about half of the Panthers' explosive plays.

    I elected to go with Smith because without him, the Panthers could have been held without a touchdown. On the drive that Newton found Brandon LaFell for the touchdown, Smith drew the coverage toward him, allowing LaFell to find an opening in the secondary.

    In the passing game, it all starts with the speedy Smith. At 33 years old, Smith still stretches the field better than the vast majority of wideouts in the NFL.  

    Smith is deserving of this award for taking a devastating hit from Mark Barron and getting up and acting as if nothing happened. Tough-nosed play like that is what makes Smith the player that he is, and hopefully, that will never change.  

    Others who were deserving: Greg Hardy, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis

LVP: Offensive Line

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    The offensive line consists of Jordan Gross, Amini Silatolu, Ryan Kalil, Geoff Hangartner and Byron Bell, and the unit did not perform well against the Bucs. 

    Actually, saying that they didn't perform well might be too nice. While the Panthers' running backs do deserve some of the blame, they can't run through holes that aren't there.

    The fact of the matter is that the Panthers accumulated just 10 yards on the ground the entire game. That type of production will lead to a lot of losses this season, because Cam Newton is yet to prove that he can lead the Panthers to victories based off the merit of his arm. 

    Newton tried to do just that against the Bucs, but he was sacked three times and threw two interceptions. 

    The Bucs defensive line dominated the Panthers offensive front, especially inside. The ability of the Tampa Bay defensive tackles to get inside penetration stifled the Panthers' rushing attack and kept them off rhythm the entire game. 

    Silatolu made his first career start in Week 1 and was manhandled by Gerald McCoy all afternoon, which wasn't exactly what the Panthers coaching staff was expecting after a decent preseason.

    The Panthers better hope that the offensive line relearns how to open up holes for their bevy of talented backs, or it's going to be a long season. 

Top Rookie: Brad Nortman

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    Yes, you read that right. Brad Nortman was the Panthers' top rookie against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    While it would have been preferable to see Luke Kuechly, Amini Silatolu or Joe Adams as the subject of this slide, none of them deserve it more than Nortman. 

    On a day in which the offensive sputtered more often than it ran smoothly, Nortman did his best to keep the Panthers level in the field position battle. 

    Against Tampa Bay, Nortman punted five times for an average of 39.8 net yards per attempt. While that isn't the most impressive statistic, he did pin the Bucs inside their own 20 twice and performed admirably for it being his first game as a professional.

    Nortman being the rookie that stood out the most speaks volumes about how unsuccessful Week 1 was for the Panthers.