Cam Newton Needs to Protect the Ball
The play that will stand out from this game is the 90-yard interception returned for a touchdown by Seahawks’ safety Kam Chancellor. That play closed out any chance of the Panthers making any kind of comeback as it stretched Seattle’s lead to 31-10. Unfortunately, Newton was making these kind of decisions all game and hurt Carolina’s chances at an upset.
Newton finished the game 23 of 36 for 246 yards and two touchdowns but had three turnovers (two interceptions and one fumble). The turnover number could have been much higher if it wasn’t for a drop by Richard Sherman in the first quarter and Earl Thomas allowing the ball to hit the ground at the end of the first half on an interception attempt.
There is no question that Newton is physically gifted and is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. He can hurt teams on the ground almost as much as he can through the air. However, he does turn the ball over at a rather high rate. He has never had fewer than 12 interceptions in a season and in three postseason games he has thrown a total of five picks.
If Cam Newton hopes to take that next step to be considered one of the top quarterbacks in the league, he will need to cut down on turnovers in 2015.
Panthers Couldn’t Beat Seahawks at Their Own Game
Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett tried to describe the similarities between the two teams earlier this week saying that the Panthers are “like an attractive cousin”. I am not sure how that applies to this situation but he did go on to say that these teams are built very similar and have similar strengths. This showed for most of the game Saturday.
On the offensive side of the ball, both teams have mobile quarterbacks and strong running games. The Panthers actually beat the Seahawks in this part of the game, outgaining them on the ground 132 yards to 100 yards. On defense, both teams have playmakers at every level of their defense and puts pressure on the opposing offense.
The only difference, and this showed on Saturday night, the Panthers are inexperienced and made more mistakes than the Seahawks. During the Panthers five game win streak, they relied heavily on their rookies, eight to be exact, who played very well down the stretch. Against Seattle though they looked outmatched at times and Russell Wilson seemed to move the ball almost at will in the second half. The experience of the Seahawks veterans showed late in the game and allowed them to run away with the game.
The Future is Very Bright in Carolina
A 31-17 loss in the divisional round of the playoffs certainly wouldn’t seem like the future is very bright in Carolina right now. However, this Carolina Panthers team accomplished a lot this year that they can build on heading into 2015.
Some of their accomplishments could be discredited due to how weak the NFC South was this year but back-to-back division titles for the first time in the division history is not something to dismiss. Also, the fact that the Panthers were able to win their first playoff game since 2005 is certainly an accomplishment to point to the progress they are making.
The biggest reason that the Panthers organization, and their fans, should feel good about the future is how many young players play major roles in their late season success. The Panthers had a number of rookies and second-year players see extensive playing time down the stretch. The experience of playing in playoff games and being in these kind of atmospheres should help them in the future.
These types of playoff games are invaluable for young players and developing their game. If the Panthers front office can add a few key free agents in the offseason as well as the NFL Draft, this team should be competing for their third consecutive NFC South Division title next year.