With 1:13 left in the game Sunday, there was tension between the Carolina offense and the coaching staff. Mike Tolbert and DeAngelo Williams were among those who looked over to their sideline and threw their arms up in disgust, shouting at head coach Ron Rivera.
Up 31-10, the Carolina offense was upset that the coaches wouldn't let them go for it on fourth and goal from the 2-yard line, opting to kick a field goal instead. Oh how far they've come.
For the first time in third-year quarterback Cam Newton's career, the Panthers are playing great football. They're on a four game winning streak, and sit at 5-3 overall (one game behind the division leading Saints). While Newton has been dynamic and is on pace for his highest quarterback rating and year-long completion percentage, the teams' four game winning streak can only be partially attributed to him.
The bulk of the credit belongs to the defense.
Led by star linebacker Luke Kuechly, the Carolina defense has been dominant. They've allowed just one first half touchdown all season that came with 1:55 left in the second quarter in Sunday's thrashing of the Falcons.
As Bill Barnwell of Grantland.com noted after Sunday's game, the defense only allowed 14.5 points per game during the Panthers shaky 1-3 start while the offense struggled to an average of 18.5 points. The defense has kept up their stellar play during Carolina's four-game winning streak, giving up only 12 points per game. The Carolina offense, aided by turnovers and strong field position, has ballooned up to a whopping 32.5 points per game. If the offense can keep it up, they're capable of beating anyone.
But questions remain around their offensive consistency, as the Panthers' front office has failed to provide Newton with ample offensive weapons. Newton was also very inefficient on Sunday, throwing two first half interceptions and completing only 23 of 37 passing attempts.
A strong performance against the 49ers in San Francisco next week will go a long way in proving their mettle to the rest of the NFC. Expect their defense to give them a great shot.