Cam Newton's Stat Sheet Is Loaded, but Panthers' Defense Deserves More Credit

Joye PruittSenior Analyst ISeptember 18, 2011

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 11:  (L-R) Thomas Davis #58, Chris Gamble #20, Charles Johnson #95 and James Anderson #59 of the Carolina Panthers celebrate after a turnover against the Arizona Cardinals during the NFL season opening game at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 11, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.The Carindals defeated the Panthers 28-21.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Cam Newton did it again. When everyone doubted that he would be able to have another 400-yard performance against the defending Super Bowl champions, he showed up at Carolina Panthers’ home opener against Green Bay and loaded his stat sheet in Week 2 of his rookie season with 432 yards of passing offense and a few more yards rushing the ball.

However, while praising his arm strength for a play in the last drive for the Panthers, his three interceptions at the hands of Green Bay’s defense should be equally evaluated.

Three picks, two at the hands of Charles Woodson as he was covering Carolina’s leading receiver, Steve Smith, were accumulated after Newton’s hot start in the first quarter where he accrued 151 yards and one touchdown. Everyone just knew that he was on the pathway to possibly defeating Aaron Rodgers and the sweltering Green Bay defense.

Until the Packers woke up and played like they had something to lose. The amazing thing about how tight GB’s defense plays is that they fight until the end as if everything is on the line.

So what if this is an early regular season game against a team led by a rookie QB that almost no one believed in? So what if the Packers did not make many changes, therefore are favorites to lead their division and the league all the way back to a Superbowl berth?

A loss is a loss nonetheless and after being scantily humiliated by a rookie and a so-so franchise in the first quarter of this game, the Packers were ready to put a stop to the madness. At least offensively.

While everyone marvels at Newton and the statistics he managed to repeat, there was a slight oversight on the field. Jon Beason was injured against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1 and will be out for the remainder of the season with an Achilles’ injury. “What do they do now?” was the question surrounding the franchise as their defense was immediately brought into question.

Newton, Smith and Jeremy Shockey seemed to have everything under control offensively, but with team captain Beason out indefinitely, mentions of his successors were few and far in between. However, Sunday afternoon against Rodgers and his multiple elite targets, the Panthers’ defense was able to hold GB to field goals on several drives where the Packers were fueled and searching to stretch their lead by multiple TDs.

Their collective first quarter performance was just as impressive as Newton’s. Leaving the Packers scoreless, Carolina’s defense held Green Bay to a single drive. Sure, there was a kick return. However, when Randall Cobb fumbled and Carolina recovered, it seemed as if the Panthers actually had a chance to win this thing. But, everyone knows that all four quarters of a football game need to be played before a winning decision can be made.

While the offensive side of Carolina’s team did not seem to endure the entire contest, the defense refused to let up. There were a few wide open looks that the corners should have covered a little better, however, keeping Rodgers out of the end zone, holding Green Bay to 1-of-4 in the red zone, is impressive.

There was a key defensive play in the fourth quarter where Charles Johnson made a stop on James Starks to give Carolina’s offense another chance at the ball. Unfortunately, Green Bay’s defense was just as formidable as Clay Matthews refused to allow Newton to convert on a fourth down, giving the Packers back the ball which resulted in a TD reception for Packers’ WR Jordy Nelson.

Carolina could not get it done today. But, there is a spark in this 0-2 team that surpasses their current position in the NFC South. The heart that each side of the ball plays with continues to grow and so does the hunger to dig out of a hole sculpted in the 2010 season. The Panthers are headed in a totally different direction.

But, do not be so mesmerized by the rookie quarterback that you are blind to the strides Carolina’s defense allows him.