The Carolina Panthers (3-8) met the Philadelphia Eagles (3-8) on Monday Night Football and improved their record not only on the season but on Monday night as well. The Panthers defeated the Eagles 30-22 and are now 6-4 lifetime when they play in the week's final game and they did so against a team that, like them, entered the season with high expectations but have generated disappointing results.
Carolina seemed to be firing on all cylinders and making the necessary plays to get the win. The only disappointing part of its game was its rush defense, which allowed another unknown running back to run all over it. Fortunately, the result was different than the one from Week 3.
There were plenty of winners and losers to take from this game, making it very difficult to name all the winners as the team played very well. Efforts from the defensive line and the offense were all key to the Panthers victory Monday night.
Here are the notable Carolina winners and losers from Week 12.
Carolina only maintained possession twice in the first quarter but scored on both drives. Its first drive was impressive as it followed a strong opening drive by Philadelphia and resulted in three points. The offensive line played well as it allowed the running game and passing game to move the ball downfield with tight end Gary Barnidge and wide receiver Brandon LaFell reeling in passes from Cam Newton for touchdowns.
Newton was equally impressive in the opening quarter as he was 4-for-5 for 90 yards and two touchdowns. His showing in the first quarter was probably his best of the season and he took full advantage of the national spotlight by making the necessary plays to help his team score.
The Panthers needed to make a statement early, and they did just that by scoring 14 points in the opening quarter. The tempo of the game was established early and the Panthers even repeated their early success to open up the second half.
While the Panthers defense has been playing better as of late, their rush defense in the game was horrid.
It allowed Bryce Brown to rush for 129 yards in the first half alone. What makes this number even more ridiculous is that he did that on just nine carries. This isn't the first time Carolina has experienced this as it was torched earlier in the season when New York Giants running back Andre Brown ran wild on it on national television.
It didn't help matters any that Carolina was constantly beaten by the indirect snap, which gained big chunks of yards. Luckily, the Eagles did not employ this offense too much, but it seemed to get the better of the Panthers at different points of the game.
The Panthers will need to address this issue and quickly. It may be a simple fix, such as acquiring a big defensive tackle, or it could be an adjustment the defense as a whole needs to make. Either way, if Carolina continues to give up big plays to unknown running backs, it will not bode too well for the team if it intends on keeping opponents out of the end zone.
Newton got it done not only on national television but on the road in a notoriously hostile environment. The second-year quarterback played his sharpest football of the year and completed 18 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns. In addition to his passing contributions, he had two rushing scores as well.
This was a big game for not only Newton but for the Panthers as well. Newton's confidence should be greatly boosted since he has played well the past couple of weeks. He seemed to improve upon his accuracy issues and didn't make any costly mistakes. Newton displayed confidence in the pocket and trusted himself to make plays with his legs when it mattered most. As a result, the Panthers not only found themselves scoring, but they were also able to leave Philadelphia with a win.
Hopefully, this game will give him the motivation to step up and lead the Panthers to a two-game winning streak when they take on the Chiefs in Kansas City next week.
Brad Nortman is still struggling with punting the ball deep, and his teammates are not doing him any favors by committing costly penalties. Josh Thomas' kick-catch interference gave the Eagles better field position than what they should have had late in the second quarter. Fortunately, they were unable to capitalize on it.
Graham Gano, who was recently acquired to replace the recently waived Justin Medlock, showed early promise with an early field goal but then botched the extra point on Carolina's final touchdown to raise concerns about the kicking game. Fortunately, it did not come back to haunt the Panthers, but it is still unacceptable. Perhaps, Carolina should have retained John Kasay after all. Since releasing him, it has gone through three kickers and none of them have proven to be clutch or reliable.
The coverage unit still needs improvement as a series of missed tackles allowed Philadelphia to start with a decent spot to begin its drives. However, it does deserve credit for forcing the turnover in the fourth quarter to help secure the victory. The solution to the special teams woes is not on the team and it will most likely require an outside hire to rectify the situation and improve the unit as a whole.
The jury is still out on Armanti Edwards as he looked both good and bad during this game. He seems to be trying to make the most out of his field time, considering the kickoff he took deep out of the end zone—one that didn't garner much of a gain. However, he did have a nice return early on, which set the Panthers up at the 31. He could still have a future in Carolina but if Joe Adams finally emerges or the Panthers decide to go a different direction, he may find himself on the free-agent market.
For a secondary that has had its share of issues this season, Sherrod Martin stepped up in a big way. He deflected two passes, one of which was at the goal line, and despite being unable to pick either of them off, he did his part to keep the Eagles passing game in check. His biggest moment came in the fourth quarter when he stripped Brandon Boykin on the kickoff allowing Carolina to regain possession. This was the pivotal moment of the night and was the key to the Panthers' victory.
Luke Kuechly continues to make a name for himself in the Carolina defense as he led the team with eight tackles and had a fumble recovery. The Achilles heel of the Philadelphia offense was the turnover bug and Kuechly made sure to make it pay. Granted, he had a mediocre performance since moving to the middle, but he should be in the discussion for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
For all the good things the Carolina secondary was doing Monday night, Haruki Nakamura did the complete opposite.
Nakamura found himself giving up another big play as his pass interference penalty allowed the Eagles to set up 1st-and-goal and get their last score of the game. Unlike before, his mistake did not cost the Panthers the game, but it was just another reason why the Panthers could look to address the free safety position in the offseason.
He has had his moments this year, but too many bad decisions have overshadowed the good. For example, the only thing anyone will remember from him in this game was the penalty that allowed Philadelphia to score and kept the score extremely close. Considering the youth and inexperience in the secondary, a liability like Nakamura would be an injustice to an up-and-coming defensive unit that is trying to prove itself each week.
The Panthers entered the half behind 15-14 and in a position to either win or lose another close one. They entered the the fourth quarter down by one point and were able to score nine points while their defense shut out the Eagles the rest of the way. This was huge for a team that had dropped 12 of 18 games after leading in the fourth quarter.
Once Carolina made the stop on 4th-and-short, the only thing left to do was to hold on to the ball and milk the clock. The Panthers did that and were able to convert on third down after the two-minute warning to go into their victory formation. This is the kind of game the Panthers need more of as they go forward. Losing games is never fun and losing the close ones can be detrimental to a player's psyche. Carolina did what needed to be done not only in the second half but in the winding minutes of the game where the Panthers have struggled at times.