Cam Newton had his classic game. The wretched weather made his first half look like a sloppy mess with a bad interception and a fumble on a handoff, but then came the second half. Newton led the team to two impressive scoring drives ending in two touchdown passes for the quarterback and contributed with a few solid runs, as always, to move the chains. In overtime he was practically perfect throwing passes where only his receivers could get it and led the team to its rebuttal field goal. Newton finished going 16 of 35 for 248-yards, two touchdowns and an interception and added a solid rushing total of 41-yards on 10 carries. Newton did what he has seemed to do each game this season; make the plays when it’s needed most.
Jonathan Stewart was expected to run rampant on this porous Indianapolis run defense but that wasn’t the case. He did end with a solid stat line of 82-yards and one score on 24 carries but those were 82 hard fought yards that were a struggle to come by for much of the game. Looking at the stats you wouldn’t think the best rushing team in the league struggled much at all here but throughout the contest it seemed as though they weren’t able to string many big runs together the way the offense would like to. Nonetheless, Stewart had a solid day and his early touchdown was a key to starting with a lead.
If Newton had a classic performance to his season standard, the receivers played their game to a T. Ted Ginn had a few solid catches and had another big gain called back because of a penalty but made a massive gaffe when he dropped a sure game-winning touchdown pass in overtime. Philly Brown made a big impact in this one with three impressive catches for 42-yards, one being a nice touchdown catch as he was crossing the end zone and seemed like it would put Carolina up for good. Outside of these two not much was going. Jerricho Cotchery had two catches, one for a nice chain-mover and Devin Funchess threw in just one reception for medium yardage on his lone target. The Ginn drop will mar this overall solid performance but it epitomizes this unit perfectly.
Greg Olsen showed up big in this one and turned out to be a deciding factor as he should be. He provided the offense with much of the same in terms of production: solid blocking, clutch catches, and not missing a snap. The veteran tight end caught a team-high six receptions for 79-yards and a touchdown on 12 targets. He did make a few rare but crucial mistakes though with an illegal downfield blocking penalty that negated a big gain from Ginn and a questionable holding call that extinguished a Panthers drive that would have most likely allowed the offense to run out the clock with little scare. But his good far outweighed the bad in hindsight and Olsen continues to be the X-factor for Carolina.
The offensive line was hit hard right from the get-go in this matchup. Stalwart center Ryan Kalil was ruled out with an ankle injury forcing Fernando Velasco into the starting lineup and starting left guard Andrew Norwell went down with a leg injury early on in the contest. Veterans Chris Scott and Amini Silatolu subbed in at guard and weren’t bad by any means, but it seemed the offensive rhythm was off with the absence of two starters. The unit has started the same five every game prior and now had to deal with two new faces being inserted into the rotation. The group only gave up two sacks but wasn’t able to get the normal push in the run game. The offense fumbled on the Indianapolis one-yard line in the third on a snap exchange from Velasco but it was more on Newton than the backup center. All in all, not a bad effort but the team will hopefully get Kalil and Norwell back soon.
One week after having an impressive and disruptive five sack game, the Panthers’ defensive line was held quiet almost all game long. The unit only managed two sacks on the day (Jared Allen & Kony Ealy) and outside of Allen, the unit struggled to pressure Andrew Luck and looked to be completely drained in the fourth quarter giving the Colts quarterback plenty of time to march his team down the field. Allen had a solid game though getting five tackles and five quarterback hits to go with his sack, and helped the team dominate early on. Against a struggling Indianapolis offensive line the Panthers were expected to be able to provide a solid pass rush presence but certainly failed to do so here.
Another day, another double digit tackle game for star Panthers’ linebacker Luke Kuechly. He was all over the field as usual and finished with 14 total tackles, three pass deflections and a clutch interception that sealed the game for Carolina and set up the game winning field goal. Kuechly had an opportunity earlier in the game to stop the Colts short of their game-tying field goal that sent the game into overtime when he nearly intercepted a pass in the end zone. Thomas Davis and AJ Klein were relatively quiet in this one but Kuechly more than made up for their less than stellar production.
The stars of the game came from this unit. Three of the top four tacklers on defense came from the secondary and a number of key plays were made. Kurt Coleman had a terrific day stuffing a couple of third down runs from the Colts and made a nice pick on a badly thrown ball from Luck. He also had a number of crucial pass deflections to halt multiple Indianapolis drives. Roman Harper totaled 12 tackles on the day and was a consistent presence in the box against the run for Carolina. His biggest play though came when he deflected Luck’s overtime pass that resulted in Kuechly’s interception. Charles Tillman had a decent game as well picking off Luck early and covering well overall. And Josh Norman just kept doing his thing. Through the first half he didn't allow a single reception to Colts receiver TY Hilton and broke up two huge pass plays fully extending and putting his abilities on display. An excellent outing for this secondary helped propel this team to an overtime win.
A new addition to the weekly report card is the special teams play and for good reason. In a sloppy offensive game in the first half, Brad Nortman was a key contributor and helped put the Colts back deep a number of times averaging 41.6-yards per punt. Graham Gano had quite a day as well. He started by kicking field goal to give the team a three point lead in the first but then shanked the final extra point opportunity which looked like it would haunt the Panthers. Gano got two field goal chances in overtime for the tie and then the win and nailed them both, and definitely made up for his previous blunder.