Panthers vs. Giants: Carolina Grades, Notes and Quotes

Bryan Knowles@BryknoContributor IIIDecember 20, 2015

Panthers vs. Giants: Carolina Grades, Notes and Quotes

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    The Panthers escaped New York with a 38-35 victory.
    The Panthers escaped New York with a 38-35 victory.Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    At first, it looked like the Carolina Panthers were going to roll to an easy victory over the New York Giants.  Then it looked like the Giants were going to knock off the last undefeated team yet again in what would have been the biggest regular-season comeback in NFL history.

    When the smoke cleared, however, the Panthers emerged victorious, improving to 14-0.  It wasn’t the prettiest win, but considering the Giants were the Panthers' first serious road challenge since the Seahawks back in Week 6, the Panthers will take the victory any way it comes.

    The Panthers roared to a 35-7 lead behind Cam Newton’s arm and miscues by the Giants.  Newton threw five touchdown passes to spark the early lead, hitting Ted Ginn twice and Greg Olsen, Devin Funchess and Corey Brown once apiece.  The Giants missed out on two potential touchdowns, with Odell Beckham dropping a wide-open pass and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie dropping a potential pick-six.  The Panthers were rolling so much that the media began questioning why Newton and the starters weren’t being pulled from the game.

    Then, the Giants started to roll, reminding everyone that they’re led by a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.  Eli Manning threw four touchdown passes of his own, and the Panthers began to struggle executing. 

    They had a field goal blocked, fumbled an exchange between Newton and rookie Cameron Artis-Payne, and then had a three-and-out that took just a minute off the clock.  The wheels were coming off, and the Giants roared back to tie the game.  Had they completed the comeback, they would have tied the NFL record for largest regular-season comeback, set by Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers back in 1980.

    Montana and those 49ers didn’t have to play against Cam Newton, however.

    Newton, with his ankle iced and his ribs hurting, led the Panthers on his 12th-ever game-winning drive, and his fourth of the season.  He completed three passes for 37 yards and scrambled twice for 12 more yards to move the Panthers into field-goal range, and Graham Gano kicked it through the uprights to give the Panthers the 38-35 win.

    It wasn’t the performance of a great team—a great team would not have let the Giants back into the game in the first place.  But it showed mettle and toughness and performance in the clutch.  For the 18th consecutive time in the regular season—tied for the third-longest streak in NFL history—the Carolina Panthers found a way to win a football game.  They may not all be pretty, but they all count.

Grades

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    Ted Ginn added another two touchdowns to his total.
    Ted Ginn added another two touchdowns to his total.Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Quarterback: A

    Cam Newton became the first player in NFL history with more than 300 yards passing, 100 yards rushing and five passing touchdowns in the same game.  He had his 12th-career game-winning drive to help ice the game.  He extended his own record for most seasons with 3,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards—he’s done that in every single one of his NFL seasons.  He did nearly throw an interception, but we’re picking nits—he had another great day.

    Running Backs: B

    The Panthers missed Jonathan Stewart toward the end of the game when they tried to run the clock out, but rookie Cameron Artis-Payne had a very solid game.  He carried the ball 14 times for 56 yards, though he did botch an exchange with Newton on a read-option.  Perhaps that should be expected from a player who has been inactive for most of the season.  Artis-Payne also had a couple of receptions for 34 yards and showed quite a bit of promise.  We’ll likely see a lot of him over the next two weeks.

    Wide Receivers: A

    Ted Ginn finished with six receptions for 85 yards and two touchdowns, as well as his usual drop.  He was joined by Corey Brown, who had three receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown of his own.  Jerricho Cotchery and Devin Funchess also had solid days, as the Panthers can now go four-deep at the wideout position.

    Tight Ends: A

    Greg Olsen had six receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown, including some key grabs on third downs.  He did not look to be at all slowed down by the knee injury he suffered last week.

    Offensive Line: B-

    The offensive line allowed Cam Newton to be sacked three times, as they struggled to contain Robert Ayers and Jason Pierre-Paul.  They had a better day on the ground—the Panthers averaged 5.9 yards rushing and 3.4 yards rushing on non-quarterback runs.  Newton’s mobility, both avoiding sacks and running the ball, makes them look better than they actually played.

    Defensive Line: D

    The last time these two teams played, the Panthers sacked the Giants seven times and dominated the line of scrimmage.  Not so much this week—Eli Manning wasn’t sacked a single time, and the Giants ran for an average of six yards a clip with a touchdown.

    Linebackers: B

    Most of the rushing yards came at the line of scrimmage, with the linebackers forced to clean up plays.  As such, Luke Kuechly ended up with 15 tackles, none of them for a loss.  Thomas Davis had nine of his own, and Shaq Thompson played well too, including a crushing blow on a punt return.

    Defensive Backs: B-

    For most of the day, the defensive backs kept Manning and the Giants in check, but the fourth quarter was another story.  Manning finished with only 245 passing yards, but that included four touchdowns.  Josh Norman did well in his battle with Odell Beckham, but Beckham did catch a touchdown pass against him, and had another long reception against Cortland Finnegan.  Charles Tillman had a big interception in the end zone on a play that should have ended the game, were it not for the fumble on the next offensive possession.

    Special Teams: C

    Props to the kicking unit for a game-winning field goal, but the block on the previous field goal attempt kept the Giants alive and forced the necessity of a game-winning try.  At  least the return game played well—Ted Ginn had a 36-yard punt return, and Joe Webb averaged 21.3 yards per return on his three kickoff returns.

    Coaching: B

    From a strategic point of view, the Panthers coaching staff did well.  They won a challenge and made the right call to keep Cam Newton in the game rather than decide the game was won too early.  However, I have to ding them for letting the game get as chippy as it did—tempers were flaring, and there was a point in the third quarter when it felt like the referees had lost control of the game altogether.  The coaching staff should have clamped down on that if the referees were incapable of doing so.

Beckham and Norman Feisty

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    Odell Beckham and Josh Norman got in a number of scrapes throughout the game.
    Odell Beckham and Josh Norman got in a number of scrapes throughout the game.Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    The opening quarter-and-a-half of the game threatened to devolve into an ugly brawl, especially between Odell Beckham and Josh Norman.  The two players were involved in scraps after nearly every play, be it just snapping at one another verbally or physically getting into shoving matches.  The two both play at very high energy and are very highly strung, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that the two would be at each other’s throats from the get-go.

    It was bad enough that referee Terry McAulay went to both Giants coach Tom Coughlin and Panthers coach Ron Rivera during a commercial break to warn them to get things under control.  It ultimately resulted in an unnecessary-roughness penalty called on Beckham, after which the physical nature of the confrontation tapered off.

    That was the start of a bad three quarters for Beckham.  Beckham had a step for a potential touchdown pass early, but he dropped it, and that was the tone for the day.  Beckham didn’t catch a single pass until 10 minutes into the third quarter, with the score 35-7.  He was also flagged multiple times—three times for unnecessary-roughness calls and once each for a false start and offensive pass interference.  This comes after six consecutive games in which he topped 100 yards receiving.

    He entirely lost his composure at the end of the third quarter, delivering a late helmet-to-helmet hit on Josh Norman while blocking.  It got bad enough that the announcers on the FOX broadcast were actively calling for the referees to take him out of the game.  To be entirely fair, Norman was fighting back, but Beckham was instigating it from the beginning of the game.

    Beckham did have a major reception late as the Giants mounted a furious comeback, with a 40-yard reception to set up a Giants touchdown.  However, that was against Cortland Finnegan, not Norman.  No, the true redemption for Beckham came with 1:46 left in the game, as he caught the tying touchdown pass against Norman.

    We’ll call the Norman-Beckham matchup a draw.

CaM-V-P

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    Cam Newton is unstoppable.
    Cam Newton is unstoppable.Peter Morgan/Associated Press

    The knock against Cam Newton’s MVP candidacy early in the season was the lack of statistical dominance compared to the likes of Tom Brady or Carson Palmer.  It was things like the comeback drive at the end of the Seattle game and Carolina’s general record as a whole that was driving his candidacy primarily—perhaps over-weighing quarterback wins as an important stat.

    Over the second half of the season, however, Newton has been doing his best to fill in that statistical void.  As recently as five weeks ago, Newton had never thrown for more than three touchdowns in a game.  He’s now done it three times in the last five weeks.  Since the Washington game, Newton has averaged 3.6 touchdowns and 273 passing yards, not to mention 42.8 yards on the ground.

    It was another ho-hum five-touchdown day against the Giants.  Yes, the Giants are second only to the Saints in yards per passing play allowed, but you still have to execute and put up those kinds of numbers.  Newton’s numbers now compare favorably to any other quarterback in football—he may still be slightly trailing them in overall passing, but it’s close enough where intangibles like the undefeated season and the late-game heroics should push him ahead of the competition.

    Against the Giants, Newton became the first player in NFL history with more than 300 passing yards, 100 rushing yards and five passing touchdowns in the same game.  The closest a player had ever come was Michael Vick in 2010, and he was a passing touchdown and 20 rushing yards short of the mark.

    Newton has been amazing this year, and deserves every bit of acknowledgement that can be given to him.

Home-Field Advantage?

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    Panthers fans can root for Sam Bradford tonight.
    Panthers fans can root for Sam Bradford tonight.Michael Perez/Associated Press

    The Panthers' victory moves them to 14-0.  The only opponent who could possibly catch them for the NFC lead is the Arizona Cardinals, who entered the day at 11-2.  At this point, the Panthers would have to lose to both the Falcons and the Buccaneers and the Cardinals would have to win out in order for the Panthers to not have home-field advantage.

    That means the Panthers could potentially clinch home-field advantage tonight on Sunday Night Football, when the Cardinals travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles.  The Cardinals are still fighting to clinch the division and a bye week, while the Eagles need to win to keep pace with Washington in the NFC East, so it should be a good matchup between two motivated teams.

    The Cardinals pulled out a tight victory over Philadelphia last year, winning 24-20 on a late John Brown touchdown.

    The Cardinals are favored by 3.5 points, per OddsShark, so the odds are the Panthers will still have something to play for next week in Atlanta.  However, it certainly wouldn’t hurt for the Cardinals to slip up tonight—it would give the Panthers the option of resting some of their key players who got banged up on the trip to New Jersey.

Josh Norman: F--k Odell Beckham

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    Josh Norman had some choice words for Odell Beckham.
    Josh Norman had some choice words for Odell Beckham.Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Well, considering the contentious nature of the Norman-Beckham fight and the outspoken nature of Norman, it perhaps is not surprising that Norman had some choice words for Beckham after the game, after a week of nothing but complimentary talk between the two.

    In the immediate aftermath of the game, before he had left the field, Norman was blunt.  “F--k him.  He’s a b---h!  Screw him and his whole setup,” he ranted, according to Steve Overmeyer.

    By the time reporters got to him in the locker room, he had had a moment to calm down and collect his thoughts, but he was still clearly upset.

    The cheap shots and other unnecessary-roughness penalties Beckham committed were “ridiculous,” per ESPN’s David Newton.  Joe Person reported that Norman said that Beckham’s helmet-to-helmet hit was “malicious” and should have seen him ejected.

    Beckham’s “layers were peeled back,” according to Norman.  It’s fine if he wants to “dance and prance around like a ballerina,” but he shouldn’t “pretend” to be tough.

    “If you’re going to be Michael Jackson and go around and dance and play…and not be a football player and not train the way you’re supposed to train.  I hope I pulled back the mask, pulled back the face of what this dude really is,” he finished.

    For Beckham’s part, he claimed that Norman instigated things, saying that the “second man always gets caught,” per Ralph Vacchiano.  Norman’s response was that “film don’t lie.”

    This will be revisited, as both players will likely receive a healthy fine for their actions during the game, with Beckham’s likely being significantly larger.  The referees entirely lost control of the game in the third quarter, and Beckham arguably should have been ejected for his helmet-to-helmet hit.

Ron Rivera: Panthers 'Lost Our Composure'

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    Ron Rivera was not pleased with the team's performance.
    Ron Rivera was not pleased with the team's performance.Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Coach Ron Rivera’s postgame press conference clearly showed how upset he was, both with the comeback they allowed to the Giants and with the scrappiness the game devolved into in the third quarter.

    “We need to maintain our focus. We lost our composure,” he said, per Max Henson.  They lost their cool at the end of the third quarter, he said, and it directly impacted their play on the field.

    He also indicated that he would have pulled Norman from the game had his counterpart, Tom Coughlin, pulled Beckham.

    The Panthers can’t afford to lose their composure in a more significant game, and they’ve got some very significant games upcoming.  Rivera will have some teachable moments coming out of this one as he tries to get the Panthers into shape for a playoff run.

Cam Newton: We 'Have to Be Better'

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    Cam Newton did not seem satisfied after the game.
    Cam Newton did not seem satisfied after the game.Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Cam Newton in general was pleased with the victory—saying he was “happy” the team found a way to win the football game, per Max Henson—but not with the way it happened.

    “We have to be better,” he said, per Bryan Strickland.  “We let a big lead slip away.”  He also admitted it was “weird” in the locker room, despite improving to 14-0, per David Newton.

    When you win every game, like the Panthers have, close escapes like this are the worst you experience all season long.  This was the sixth one-score game the Panthers have survived this season; a few bounces go another way, and the Panthers could easily be 10-4 or 11-3 rather than 14-0.  Compare this to, for example, Ron Rivera’s 1985 Bears, which only played in two one-score games all season long, and you can see why the Panthers aren’t guaranteed to just steamroll their opponents on the way to the Super Bowl.

    The Panthers have been historically successful, not historically great to this point.  You can look at that in one of two ways.  If you’re a pessimist, you could say that the Panthers are bound to lose a close game at some point, and if they keep letting teams back in at the end of games, someone’s going to find a way to steal a victory.  If you’re an optimist, you can point to all the success the Panthers have had and say that there’s still room for the team to actually get better, which has to be a scary thought for teams that have to play them.

    In other words, Newton’s right.  There’s room to get better.  There’s not room to be more successful.

    Bryan Knowles is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Carolina Panthers.  Follow him @BryKno on twitter.