After weeks of coming close, the Panthers finally sealed the deal and got a big 33-20 win against the Washington Redskins Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers' coaching staff and players did a great job of bouncing back from a disappointing and mistake-filled loss in Atlanta last week.
But how exactly did they bounce back? Here are some key takeaways from the Panthers' big win against the Redskins.
Cam Newton struggled for the first time in his young career last week against the aggressive Atlanta Falcons defense. Newton had a quarterback rating below 45, threw three interceptions (two resulting in key Falcons scores), only completed 60 percent of his passes, and only averaged about seven yards per completion.
It looked like it was finally time to hop off the Cam Newton bandwagon.
But today against the Redskins, Newton showed he could bounce back from his tough game last week. Newton completed around 78 percent of his passes, ran for 59 yards on only 10 carries, scored two touchdowns, and never turned the ball over. Newton took a huge step forward today and if he continues to take care of the ball, the Panthers could be a team to watch in the second half in the season.
Through the first few weeks of the season, the Panthers' running game was absolutely dreadful.
The Panthers were only averaging a little over three yards per carry, were struggling to get over 75 rushing yards per game, and the team's running game was the second worse attack in the league. The one-dimensional Panthers offense looked like it was going nowhere fast.
Over the past few weeks, however, Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski has come up with schemes that have forced the team's running game to be successful.
The Panthers are now running the option, running a zone read type of offense, and most importantly, are now setting up the run with their explosive passing game.
The Panthers ran for over 175 yards Sunday and averaged almost five yards per carry.
A huge problem for the Panthers' offense over the past five years has been finding a second receiver to compliment the talents of Steve Smith.
The Panthers have not been able to find another receiver who requires double coverage, another receiver who gives defensive coordinators headaches, or another receiver who could even come close to stretching the field as well as Smith.
The Panthers still have not found a second quality receiver.
But they have found two Pro Bowl-caliber tight ends in Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen, a quality possession receiver in Brandon LaFell, and a quality Legedu Naanee.
Instead of going out and spending all of their money on one big-name No. 2 receiver, the Panthers have found a way to acquire four quality targets without effecting their cap or their chemistry.
These new threats have allowed Steve Smith to have one of his best seasons yet. As these tight ends and receivers continue to grow, the already explosive Panthers offense will become unstoppable.
A lot of fans and analysts blamed the Panthers' close losses this season on inexperience, fourth-quarter play calling, and run defense.
Even though these are small reasons for the Panthers' close losses, the biggest reason had to be losing the turnover battle.
Coming into the game Sunday, the Panthers defense had only forced two turnovers. To put this in proper perspective, Cam Newton had thrown seven interceptions coming into Sunday's game.
Sunday, the Panthers were finally able to win the turnover battle, as they forced three turnovers on defense and did not turn the ball over once on offense.
The Panthers were finally able to pressure the quarterback enough to force turnovers and were finally able to take care of the ball on offense. If the Panthers continue to win the turnover battle, they will continue to win big games.
So much for home field advantage.
The Panthers did their best to kill any momentum they had today by committing 13 penalties for 105 yards.
The Panthers' young defensive tackles seem to jump off sides at least three times per game, and the Panthers make a habit of getting one holding call per possession.
The fact that the Panthers were able to win even though they had 13 penalties just shows you how well they played today.
If the Panthers can cut their penalties in half in the upcoming games, it will make winning even easier than it was today.