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.
QB Cam Newton w/ 152 passes without an INT, new #Panthers team record. Jake Delhomme had 150 passes w/o INT in '06— Panthers PR Dept. (@Panthers_PR) December 17, 2012
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.
Will the strong finish be enough, however, to save a bunch of coaching jobs?
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.