Panthers vs. Chargers: Carolina Finally Playing Up to Preseason Expectations

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Panthers vs. Chargers: Carolina Finally Playing Up to Preseason Expectations
courtesy AP Photo/Gregory Bull

Do you remember all the preseason hype about the Carolina Panthers? All that talk about how this football team was on the cusp of making the playoffs—of how quarterback Cam Newton was ready to take another step in his development?

Sunday’s 31-7 win on the road against the San Diego Chargers looked an awful lot like what all that hype was all about. In fact, over the last four weeks, the Panthers have been playing like a playoff-bound team.

Unfortunately for Carolina, they lost five games in a row and eight of their first 10. There will be no playoffs for the 2012 Panthers. Quarterback Cam Newton very maturely put all that aside Sunday during his press conference and talked about his refocused goal for this season.

“The challenge right now is to win more than we won last year,” said Newton. With five wins now, Carolina needs to run the table to get to seven wins and eclipse last year’s 6-10 mark.

Whether that happens or not, Newton and the Panthers are going to be able to look at the last few months of the season and see progress.

Newton threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns, but more importantly, he did not throw an interception or fumble the football. The mistake-free football he’s been playing as of late has helped the Panthers win three of their last four games. It’s also helped him set a team record in the process.

Newton now has 152 passes without an interception, according to the team’s public relations department. That broke Jake Delhomme’s record of 150 passes set in 2006:

On defense, rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly added another eight tackles to his impressive resume and defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson each sacked Philip Rivers twice.

The Panthers are used to Johnson getting to the quarterback frequently, but Hardy’s newfound prowess is the result of hard work and a call to action. The Panthers needed Hardy to be a force on the opposite side of Johnson, and he's done just that. He’s leading the team with 11 sacks with two games left to play.

With a home game against the Oakland Raiders and a road trip to face the New Orleans left on the schedule, reaching seven wins isn’t a sure thing. But finishing 2012 on a high note is likely.

Will the strong finish be enough, however, to save a bunch of coaching jobs?

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.

Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.

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