Carolina Panthers: 14 Biggest Storylines from Opening Week

Blair ChopinContributor IIISeptember 12, 2011

Carolina Panthers: 14 Biggest Storylines from Opening Week

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    After a 2010 season where the Panthers went from bad to painfully "I'd rather die then watch them play bad," the 2011 Panthers finally gave fans what they have not had in three years: hope. 

    Panther fans took more pride in yesterday's loss then they did in any of their wins over the past two years. The Panthers are a different team under Ron Rivera and here are 14 important takeaways from yesterday's game.   


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    Many Panther fans expected Cam Newton to struggle in his first start in the National Football League because he was a rookie, he had never really had to be a drop back passer before and because of his preseason performances.

    Well, yesterday Cam Newton taught us that age really does not matter when you have the skills of a superstar. He already threw one of the best deep balls in all of football and that the preseason is still the preseason.  Cam Newton tied a rookie record for passing yards, ran for a touchdown and led the team on drives that Jimmy Clausen can only dream of. He also gave a tribute to Pete Townshend after scoring a touchdown and at the end of the game said it all meant nothing because the team lost. 

    Man Crush!

Blame Jeff King

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    It just came across the wire that Panthers all pro linebacker Jon Beason will be out for the season, after tearing his ACL trying to catch Jeff King as he broke free in the third quarter of yesterday's game. 

    This loss is huge for the Panthers, as Beason is not only the best player on the defense but also the emotional leader of the defense. 

    It is really easy to blame Jeff King for this injury, though. After several years as a Panther, running at speeds that would make my grandma chuckle, he suddenly decides to make a big play for the Cardinals?

    Thanks, Jeff King. You probably told Jon Beason to punch that guy at the Gentleman's Club, as well.

The Gambler

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    Even though Chad Pennington tried to jinx him on just about every play, Chris Gamble was still able to hold elite receiver Larry Fitzgerald to only two catches.

    Throughout the offseason I questioned whether we should really trust Gamble to be a shutdown corner and made about 50,000 jokes about him tripping every other play.

    Yesterday Gamble played one of the best games of his career. If he can continue shutting down elite wide receivers, then the Panthers defense becomes that much better. And the Panthers defense needs to become that much better.

Deangelo, Where Art Thou?

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    It is always risky to give running backs a five year contract extension because they usually only have three to four solid years. It can be argued that Deangelo has already had those three good years and that the contract extension he was given was a little bit more than risky.

    Even though Deangelo still showed some burst yesterday, it was no where near 43 million dollars worth of burst. Deangelo needs to regain his balance, regain his speed and be able to read defenses better throughout the rest of the season for the Panthers to maintain a balanced offense.

BREAKING NEWS: Blocking Is Also Important on Third Down

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    The Panthers looked like one of the best two down teams in the National Football League yesterday. On the first two downs the Panthers offensive line was able to open up decent holes and set the Panthers up in third and two or third and three situations.

    The problem was that the offensive line could not handle the Cardinals third down blitzes and the Cardinals would end up sacking Cam Newton or even come close to causing a turnover.

    The Panthers offensive line has to communicate better in future weeks.

Patrick Peterson Totally Faked a Fair Catch

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    Oh, those sneaky Cajuns. On what was the Pontiac/Ford/Prius/any form of Locomotive game changing play of the game, Patrick Peterson made it look like he called a fair catch and then ended up breaking out a Randall Cobb like touchdown return. 

    Peterson did this by turning to the side and looking like he wanted to avoid any contact. As soon as the Panthers gunners ran past him he was breaking one of the best returns of the young season. It was a smart play by Peterson and probably something that Les Miles will work into his game plan against Mississippi State.

Captain Punterlynn

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    For the first time in his young career, Captain Munnerlyn was not awful.

    In fact, he made some huge plays throughout the game. Captain made big play after big play on third down and often forced the Cardinals to punt when they probably were not planning on punting. 

    Captain will just continue to get better. If he can continue to make big plays on third down he might be worth that contract extension I did not give him in Madden 2012.

Mr. Jackson Is for Real

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    I was really concerned that Charles Johnson's 10 sack effort in 2010 was just a fluke. We had never seen Johnson produce the way he produced in 2010. I thought he might have just had those numbers because the Panthers were so bad that other teams had their backups in by kickoff. 

    Yesterday Johnson was the best defensive player on the field and he looked like one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. Johnson looks like he might top his sack numbers from last season and he even almost got an interception. Julius who?

Chud! Chud! Chud! Chud!

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    For the first time since the turn of the century the Panthers seem to have an offense coordinator who is smart instead of stubborn.

    Instead of forcing the Panthers to run the ball up the middle thirty times, Rob Chudzinski spread the offense out to take advantage of the talents of Steve Smith and Cam Newton. Chudzinski was able to adjust his game plan and give the Panthers a chance to win a game instead of sticking to his game plan and having every one wondering what could of been.

    Chudzinski's debut as the Panthers' OC was more than impressive.

Steve Smith Is the Maddest Dude to Ever Come from Utah

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    After about four years in football purgatory, Steve Smith finally has a quarterback who has an arm big enough to consistently get him the ball. Smith was in 2005 form yesterday, catching two long touchdowns and making several big catches in the fourth quarter. 

    If Cam Newton and Steve Smith can build on this connection the Panthers could have one of the best passing games in the league. Wait, what did I just write?

Hardy's Thickburger with Extra Pass Rushing

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    If you talk to "experts" who watched Greg Hardy play at Ole Miss they will tell you that he should have been drafted in the first round. The Panthers drafted Greg Hardy in the sixth round of the 2010 draft and we are finally starting to see how big of a steal Hardy is.

    He provided pressure on about 80 percent of passing downs, was able to cover Arizona's running backs, fought through double teams and provided the defense with a much needed spark. Hardy and Johnson were question marks coming into the season, but now they look like one of the leagues best passing rushing tandems. 

Charles Godfrey Has No Regard for Human Life

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    Yesterday Charles Godfrey proved that he was one of the most underrated players in the entire National Football League (until people start talking about how underrated he is and then he becomes a overrated underrated player).

    Godfrey is one of the hardest hitting safeties in the league (insert obligatory reference to Greg Jennings broken leg video), looks like he could cause a fumble on just about every play and plays great help coverage.

    This is another great job by the Panthers recognizing a young "hidden gem" in the draft and putting him in a position to make an impact.

A 2-3-6 Defense Might Be the Best Bet for the Future

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    Coming into the season it looked like the Panthers might have the worst defensive tackles in the entire National Football League (see how annoying it is when I don't say NFL?) and yesterday just proved that point.

    The Panthers interior defensive lineman got pushed back and pancaked constantly. This allowed former Ohio State "student athlete" Beanie Wells to have a great day running the ball.

    The Panthers should have been able to stop Wells if they had two even remotely decent defensive lineman. Hopefully the team can pick up some veterans this week.

Yes We Cam!

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    Before the 2011 season my friend Chris came up with a very catchy slogan for the 2011 season: "Yes We Cam." I think it is a fitting slogan for this team.

    Cam Newton not only gives the Panthers the hope Barack Obama gave American citizens during his 2008 campaign, but he also gives the Panthers results. Cam Newton gives the Panthers a chance to win and the Panthers will win a lot more games this season because of him.

    If not, he at least makes the games watchable.  And Panthers games ironically have not been watchable since Obama's "Yes We Can" campaign in 2008.