The Carolina Panthers once again surprised the football world when they only lost by one touchdown to the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers yesterday. Sunday's game was so fun, fascinating and fast-paced that you might have missed some of the game's biggest stories. Here are 10 of them.
Even though he threw three key interceptions, Panthers fans still have to be pleased with the play of rookie quarterback Cam Newton
Newton threw for 432 yards yesterday and has now thrown for an incredible 854 yards through two games.
Newton is second in NFL history for passing yards after two games, and he would be first if Tom Brady ever made any mistakes. If Newton continues on this breathtaking pace he will throw for 6,832 yards in his rookie season. These numbers are not just rookie-of-the-year numbers, but potential MVP numbers for a rookie.
Newton has also done a great job of consistently leading the Panthers on long drives.
The Panthers' first drive against Green Bay was a 10-play drive that went 85 yards. The Panthers were also able to go on drives of 54 yards, 65 yards, and 83 yards against one of the more feared defenses in the NFL. After the first two games of the 2010 season, the Panthers only had three drives of over 35 yards.
It is clear that Newton has brought an explosiveness and consistency to the Panthers that they just did not have in previous seasons.
The Panthers have to find a running game if they want to become a playoff threat this season.
Through two games, DeAngelo Williams only has 17 carries for 43 yards. That means a running back who is getting paid about eight million dollars a season is only averaging a little over eight carries a game.
Williams is averaging only two-and-a-half yards per carry, when he has averaged a little over five yards per carry throughout his career. Williams averaged 95 yards per game during his Pro Bowl 2008 season, but in 2011 he is only averaging 21.5 yards a game. DeAngelo needs to get back to his 2008 form for the Panthers to be successful.
Jonathan Stewart has also taken a giant step backwards this season.
Stewart averaged only 0.8 yards per carry against the Packers and is averaging just 2.4 yards per carry so far this season. Stewart also is one of the league leaders in runs resulting in no gain or a loss of yards.
In 2009, Stewart was able to rush for over 1,000 yards and average over five yards a carry. To get back to this form he needs to start running with power again instead of just running to avoid contact like he has done in the first two games.
Steve Smith has not only regained his explosiveness this season but he has also regained his swagger.
Even though Smith's third-quarter fumble was one of the big reasons the Panthers lost to the Packers, it also showed that Smith once again thinks that he is one of the best receivers in the NFL. It showed that a receiver that looked lost and depressed last season is now as competitive and cocky as ever in the 2011 season.
The Steve Smith of 2011 is playing like it's 2005, and this is a huge development for the Panthers this season.
His stats also show how much he has improved over last season. In 14 games last season, Smith only had 554 receiving yards, but in two games this season Smith already has an incredible 334 receiving yards.
This means that Smith is on pace for around 2,500 receiving yards for the season, which would almost quadruple his output from last season. He only averaged 12 yards a catch during the 2010 season, but is averaging around 24 yards a catch so far this season.
The resiliency of the Panthers defense was very impressive Sunday against the Packers.
Even though the Panthers had three straight turnovers that gave Green Bay lots of momentum and great field position, the Panthers defense only gave up three field goals.
The Packers were only able to gain around 100 yards out of these three drives, and the Panthers defense was able to come up with huge stops on third-and-eight, third-and-one and third-and-23 on these three drives
If you take away the Packers two big scoring plays (Rodgers' passes to Jennings for 49 yards and to Nelson for 84 yards), then the Panthers defense only gave up 286 yards to the best offense in the NFL.
The Packers had 400 total yards against the Saints, even though the Saints only turned the ball over once against the Packers.
The Panthers showed enough resilience on defense to make me believe that they can win games with their defense in the future.
Even though the Panthers defense was resilient, they were still unable to cause any turnovers Sunday.
The defense has only caused one turnover through the first two games the 2011 season. This means the Panthers are on pace to force just eight turnovers.
With such a young core on offense, the Panthers are going to have to force at least two turnovers a game to compete for an NFC South title.
The Panthers' special teams were exposed against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1.
Patrick Peterson made the biggest play of the game when he returned a punt for 89 yards and a touchdown. Arizona was able to average 50 yards on punt returns and 31 yards on kick returns to consistently put themselves in position to score against a tired Panthers' defense.
That said, the Panthers special teams showed drastic improvement Sunday against the Packers.
One of the best return men in the league, Randall Cobb, was only able to average 24.5 yards on kick returns and did not even try to return a punt Sunday. The Panthers' coverage unit was also able to force a huge fumble that help put their offense in position to kick a field goal that gave the team a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.
The interior of the Panthers' defensive line also showed great improvement Sunday. All of the big runs the Panthers gave up were to the outside, so they weren't killed between the tackles like they were against Arizona.
The young interior linemen that were getting pancaked against the Cards were getting penetration against the Pack. This penetration allowed the Panthers to get a lot of third-and-short stops and make the Packers offense kick field goals or punt the ball away.
Even so, those big runs to the outside did show how much they missed star linebacker Jon Beason. Beason's ability to cover space allowed him to tackle running backs before they really had a chance to break free.
Dan Connor does not have near the field vision or speed of Beason, so at times Thomas Davis or Charles Johnson would have to run all the way across the field to make touchdown-saving tackles.
Once Connor gets better at reading offenses and the interior defensive linemen continue to improve, it will be harder for teams to sustain drives against the Panthers' defense.
The Panthers were also successful using their man-to-man and zone coverage formations Sunday.
Even though the Packers have seven legitimate threats to catch the ball, the Panthers were able to use Chris Gamble, Captain Munnerlyn, Charles Godfrey, Jordan Pugh, James Anderson and Connor to make sure all of these threats were covered.
For long stretches of the game Green Bay's top three receivers were held without a catch. If the Panthers can hold one of the greatest receiving corps in modern NFL history in check, they should be able to have success against most of the teams on their schedule.
The Panthers need to find special teams players that can actually set the offense up with good field position.
Armanti Edwards only attempted two punt returns and was only able to gain 11 yards. Edwards has to use his speed more effectively and find holes in the oppositions' punt coverage to set the Panthers up with manageable field position.
On kickoff returns, Mike Goodson was often stopped shy of the 20-yard line and struggled to find any openings at all. If the Panthers do not improve in this facet of their game, it's hard to see the offense ever having manageable field position.
The play-calling on both sides of the ball continues to impress.
The Panthers are calling plays on offense and defense that give the players the greatest chance to show off their talents. This philosophy seems to work much better than the stubborn John Fox philosophy of having to establish the run on offense and having to put eight in the box on defense.
When the Panthers began to struggle running the football, Rod Chudzinski went to empty backfield sets that made sure that the running backs were still involved in the offense, and that Cam Newton could easily read the complicated Packers defenses.
Because of this adjustment, running back Jonathan Stewart was able to have 100 yards receiving, and DeAngelo Williams was able to catch a few balls out of the backfield as well.
Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's "bend but don't break" style of defense was perfect against the Packers, as the Panthers were able to successfully guard the Packers' receivers and were also able to disguise blitzes well.