Takeaways from Panthers win over Browns

The Carolina Panthers now control their playoff lives with a win over the Cleveland Browns 17-13 and help from the Atlanta Falcons. It wasn't as dominating a performance as the first two games of their three-game win streak but a touchdown pass by Cam Newton to Jonathan Stewart sealed the victory. These are three key takeaways from the the Panthers victory over the Browns in Week 16.

Tale of Two Halves

In the first half, the Carolina Panthers were playing sound football on both sides of the ball. The offense was moving the ball well down the field, controlling the time of possession and had a touchdown lead heading into halftime. This was due in large part to their defense shutting down the Cleveland Browns offense. The Browns went three and out on three of their first four drives and had a total of 78 yards of offense.

The second half the Panthers started to make mistakes and the Browns were able to capitalize, making it a much closer game than it should have been. Cam Newton threw an ill-advised pass on the Panthers opening drive of the second half that was intercepted. On the next series he fumbled the ball scrambling to his right, however that was recovered by Byron Bell.

Even the defense started to make uncharacteristic mistakes that has not been seen in a few weeks. Early in the fourth quarter, safety Roman Harper blew the coverage on a third down play that allowed Jordan Cameron to take an 81-yard pass to the house for a touchdown.

Then on the very next series cornerback Josh Norman had one of the best interceptions of the year but on the return was not able to protect the ball and fumbled it. These types of mistakes is one of the reason the Panthers are 6-8-1. They will have flashes of great plays followed by careless mistakes. It is going to be extremely important that the Panthers play four complete quarters next week in Atlanta.

 

Jonathan Stewart is a workhorse

The past few weeks the Panthers offense has been winning the time of possession battle by a wide margin and it is due in large part to Jonathan Stewart. Against the Browns was no different as Stewart carried the ball 24 times for 122 yards for a 5.1 yard per carry average and the Panthers held the ball for 38:03. Stewart had the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter when he caught a 9-yard pass from Newton to give the Panthers a 17-13 lead.

This game was Stewart’s second 100-yard rushing game in three weeks (last time he had 100-yard rushing game was Week 16 of the 2010 season). He hasn’t done it by himself though as the offensive line has really improved since Trai Turner and Mike Remmers were inserted into the starting lineup in Week 13. The time of possession battle is going to be key next week as the Panthers take on the Falcons and an offense that has the potential to put a lot of points on the board.

 

It comes down to one game

The Panthers are going to have to forget this game and the 14 games before it, the season comes down to one game. It doesn’t matter that they had a six-game losing streak, it doesn’t matter that they are going to finish under .500 because every NFL team has one goal to start the season. The first step to having a chance to achieve that goal is to get to the playoffs and the Panthers will have that chance next week in Atlanta.

The Panthers are playing their best football of the season entering this game and are playing like they did in 2013. The defense has greatly improved and playing lockdown football (allowing 13.3 points per game the past three weeks). The offense has been leaning on the run game with great results thanks to Jonathan Stewart and improved blocking on the offensive line.

While both teams have struggled this year, there is still a lot of talent on both teams. This is sure to be a hard-fought game between two teams fighting for a playoff spot. The Panthers though hope history will repeat itself from a season ago. The last time the Panthers were in Atlanta was in Week 17 last year when they won 21-20.


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