It wasn’t the performance Cam Newton would have liked to have had in his first postseason win. He finished the game 18 of 32 for 198 yards with two touchdowns and two turnovers (one interception, one fumble). The biggest negative from the game on Saturday was Newton struggled with his accuracy and missed open wide receivers, like Ed Dickson, a couple of times.
The wet weather could have played a factor in Newton being able to grip the ball and caused the errant passes. At the end of the day though, Newton got the job done and led his team to a win, which at this point in the season is the important stat.
There was some question entering this game about how the return of DeAngelo Williams would affect Jonathan Stewart. Well the short answer is not at all as Stewart was heavily showcased against the Arizona Cardinals. He finished the game with 123 yards on 24 carries and a 13-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
Williams did get some work in his first game back since breaking his hand against the Minnesota Vikings and looked the best he has all season. He had 16 yards on four carries, one of those carries going for 12 yards in the fourth quarter.
Fozzy Whittaker may have had the biggest play from this group though when he took a screen pass from Cam Newton and weaved his way through the field on his way to a 39-yard touchdown. Mike Tolbert chipped in with a touchdown catch of his own, a one-yard pass in the third quarter.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
It was another average game for the Panthers’ wide receivers and tight ends as the run game continues to dominate this offense. Kelvin Benjamin continues to struggle in the late part of this season with only four receptions, for 33 yards. The biggest concern with Benjamin is that he is not the same deep threat he was earlier this year. His longest reception against the Cardinals was for only 11 yards and he now has only one reception that has gone for 20 or more yards in the past five games.
One of the positives that came from this game was how well Newton spread the ball around among his receiving targets. Benjamin led the team with seven targets but Philly Brown had six, Greg Olsen and Jerricho Cotchery had five and even Ed Dickson had four. This is going to make it very difficult on opposing defenses if Newton continues to keep numerous targets involved.
The Panthers offensive line put together another impressive performance. It was the sixth straight game these five have started and they continue to open huge lanes in the run game and a clean pocket for Cam Newton when he throws it.
One player in particularly put together a very strong performance and that was right tackle Mike Remmers. Since being signed from the Minnesota Vikings practice squad, Remmers has solidified that right side and faced probably his toughest assignment this weekend against Calais Campbell. The Pro Bowl defensive end has had an excellent season but was kept in check for most of the game, finishing with no sacks and only one QB hit.
The Panthers defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage from nearly start to finish and shut down the Cardinals run game and disrupted Ryan Lindley regularly. It started in the middle with Star Lotulelei having another strong game with four tackles, and Dwan Edwards and Kawann Short each grabbing a sack.
One player who has really ramped up his play the past few weeks though has been defensive end Charles Johnson. He has been almost unstoppable for close to two months now and continued on Saturday with two sacks. He now has 6.5 sacks in the past seven games.
It was a record-setting performance by this Carolina Panthers defense and it was led by Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. These types of performance from these two players has almost become expected because of the level that they play at week in and week out.
Kuechly led the team with 10 tackles, two passes defended and one huge interception in the third quarter with the Cardinals about to score. Davis was second on the team with seven tackles, two for a loss. Both players seemed to be in the right spot at the right time and made it tough on the Cardinals offense to get anything going.
It is really remarkable the level this secondary is playing at and is one of the main reasons the Panthers have a five-game win streak. Josh Norman is playing like a shut-down cornerback and kept Larry Fitzgerald to only three receptions for 31 yards. Rookie Bene Benwikere has stepped into the starting cornerback role opposite Norman and played like a veteran. The safety tandem of Tre Boston and Roman Harper have made game changing plays the past two weeks with three interceptions between the two of them.
One player who has been somewhat forgotten with the improved play of this secondary is nickelback Colin Jones. The fourth-year player has gotten better each week and had the third most tackles on this team with five and one for a loss.
It is never a dull moment when the Panthers special teams comes on the field, especially with Brenton Bersin returning punts. The Cardinals punted the ball nine times on Saturday but Bersin was not able to return any of them. He actually had a costly mistake when he fumbled one in the first quarter, which led to the Cardinals first touchdown.
However, the special teams made up for it with a forced fumble when Melvin White hit Ted Ginn on a kickoff with 5:36 left in the third quarter. The ball was recovered by Kevin Reddick at Arizona three-yard line, which the Panthers were able to capitalize and build a 27-14 lead.