Carolina Panthers Have 5 Reasons to Celebrate Day off Before Falcons Week Begins
Tuesdays are typically a day of rest for NFL players in the midst of nearly six straight months of six-day work weeks.
Some guys will run errands and perhaps take in a movie, while others will spend time with their families.
Still others with nagging injuries or lingering soreness from Sunday’s game will come to the facility for treatment.
No matter how the Carolina Panthers (4-8) players choose to spend their day, they should enjoy their time off this week following their most complete performance of the season in Sunday's 38-19 defeat of the slumping Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-8). There is plenty to celebrate.
Here are five things the Panthers can reflect upon with a collective smile before beginning game preparations for the visiting Atlanta Falcons (7-5) on Wednesday.
Super Cam's Record Day
Rookie quarterback Cam Newton, the run-away leader for the NFL's 2011 Rookie of the Year Award, set an NFL record Sunday with his 13th rushing touchdown of the season, which is the most by a quarterback in NFL history.
Newton eclipsed the 35-year old mark set by former New England Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan in 1976.
Newton also had an array of new Superman-inspired celebrations, including one that he riffed from Soulja Boy after flying over the goal line for the first of his three scoring runs of the day.
Newton also made the day—and perhaps the year—of a young lady in the crowd wearing his jersey at Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium when he handed her the ball from his record-setting 13th rushing touchdown of the season in the fourth quarter.
It was his third touchdown run of the day, but likely the first Christmas gift he’s given this holiday season.
The Panthers' defense held the Bucs' leading rusher, LeGarrette Blount, to 19 yards on 11 carries, and the entire Tampa Bay offense to 285 total yards, only 78 of which game on the ground.
The Panthers had only held an opponent's leading rusher to fewer than 80 yards once all season coming into the game, a feat they accomplished in their first meeting with the pass-happy New Orleans Saints (9-3).
Sean McDermott’s defensive unit took advantage of the opportunity to face Tampa Bay’s second-string quarterback, Josh Johnson, after starter Josh Freeman sat out the game with an injured right (throwing) shoulder and attacked the Buccaneers’ ground game from the start.
If the Panthers had played the run this well all season, I may have been writing about an 8-4 team instead of one that’s 4-8.
Panthers Running Game
The Panthers gained 163 rushing yards on 39 carries to improve to fifth in the league, averaging 137.6 rushing yards per game.
The balanced rushing attack employed by the Panthers—Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart each had 14 carries while DeAngelo Williams ran the ball 11 times—had the Tampa Bay defense on its heels all afternoon and Carolina was able to capitalize on its dominant first-half performance by closing out the win in the second half.
Though Williams was limited to 29 yards on the ground, Stewart pounded his way for 80 yards and a touchdown to help set up three rushing touchdowns for Newton
Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski has found a winning formula with his run-first, pass-second play-calling, and he would be remiss not to repeat that strategy again this week against the Falcons.
Legedu Naanee's Big Day
Legedu "L.A." Naanee had his finest day as a Carolina Panther, catching a pair of 19-yard passes and his first touchdown of the year, while nearly passing for another.
Naanee, who played quarterback in high school and was recruited to play the position at Boise State before converting to wide receiver, caught a long lateral pass from Cam Newton before throwing back across the field to his quarterback for a 27-yard pass that nearly scored.
Newton, who moved carefully towards the end zone while waiting for his offensive linemen to set up a wall in front of him, was caught from behind by a Buccaneer defender and tackled at the 3-yard line.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who brought Naanee to Charlotte with him from San Diego, said it was great to see the young wide receiver score.
"Legedu is the guy who kind of does the dirty work, running the crosses, running through the middle, taking the shots," he said. "He does so many good things."
The Winning Streak
The Carolina Panthers, winners of two in a row, are officially on a winning streak for the first time since they won three straight to close out the 2009 season.
They also won consecutive road games for the first time since beating the Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals back-to-back earlier in the 2009 season.
The Panthers’ journey from league-pushover to competitive opponent has already taken place in the span of a single season and the steps toward becoming a winning team are being taken in the second half of the 2011 season.
Carolina’s next opponent, NFC South division rival Atlanta Falcons, will be a much tougher foe than its previous two, and the Panthers will not be the favored team in this game.
However, mountains are made of boulders; boulders are made of rocks; and rocks are made of sand.
The Panthers are laying the foundation for a winning franchise with every practice and every game they play and they will resume their building project on Wednesday.
But on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011—if only for a day—the Panthers can lay down their tools and take a proud look at the progress they’ve made in recent weeks.
Even Tim Tebow rests on Tuesdays and Cam Newton should, as well.