This tight victory saw the good Cam and the bad Cam but luckily for Carolina, the Cam Newton they needed showed up when it mattered most. After a slow start that included a bad forced throw that turned into an interception and a few missed throws to open receivers, Newton turned it on and willed his team to their 12th win of the season behind a five touchdown, 300+ yard performance capped off with a game winning scoring drive with less than two minutes to go. Hidden behind the rather crazy game that was, was Newton setting a career high with 15 consecutive completions and tying his career high for scores in a game (which he set earlier in the year vs. Washington). It wasn’t pretty to start but when it mattered most, Newton kept stride and put his team on top once again in MVP-like fashion.
It was another day at work for Jonathan Stewart and the Carolina backfield as they contributed solidly once again on the ground, extending their team streak of 100 yards or more to 23 games straight. Stewart showed the tough running he has all year to the tune of 82-yards and one score on 21 carries, and also set a career high in carries in a season with 232 rushes now on the year. He did fumble on a strange play where he was stripped and it was taken back by the defense for six but rebounded solidly for a nice game. Mike Tolbert rushed just twice for 33-yards but was instrumental in the passing game yet again with two catches for 18-yards and one score. It was just another day where the backfield took care of business, as usual.
With a big day on the stat sheet from Newton you can expect a big day out of the receiving corps as well, and it was, but there were enough mistakes to completely mar this performance. Newton spread the ball around as usual in this one. Jerricho Cotchery caught the go-ahead score and made two more solid catches and Devin Funchess caught one of three targets for 13-yards and a score. Ted Ginn Jr. had the best day out of this group though catching five passes for 80-yards and two touchdowns but also had two awful drops that each would have been easy touchdowns and could have spelled the end for the Panthers.
Even more so than with the receivers, if you find Newton with a big day you are more than likely to find a huge performance from Greg Olsen as well and that certainly held true today. The veteran go-to target had a season high nine catches and 129-yards, ripping off big gain after big gain and giving Newton a reliable weapon in crunch time. The biggest catch of the day for Olsen came on fourth and four with just over two minutes to go as Newton and his tight end hooked up for a crucial conversion to extend the drive and ultimately put the go ahead score on the board. He did fumble deep in Saints territory to kill a promising drive but the offense was clearly able to overcome it. Ed Dickson even got into the action here catching three passes for 27-yards on a few key completions.
It was a relatively decent day for the offensive line in this contest. The group gave up just one sack and three quarterback hits which looks good on paper and certainly means they were able to keep their quarterback upright and protected through 60 minutes. They clearly also did well in the run game paving the way for 175-yards on the ground. There were however more than a fair share of penalties that pushed the offense back with Mike Remmers being the culprit on multiple occasions.
It was another shaky performance from the defensive line in this one with very little consistent pressure coming from this unit. They were able to get to Saints quarterback Drew Brees a decent amount as evidenced by their six quarterback hits but Kawann Short managed the only sack from this group. They also contributed to holding Mark Ingram and the New Orleans ground game to just 75-yards. Kony Ealy, who has played well this season, made a few glaring mistakes jumping into the neutral zone on two consecutive plays and saw his streak of five sacks in five games come to a halt.
The Carolina linebackers rarely have a poor performance but sometimes lack the usual gusto they patrol the field with and that seemed to be the case here. Luke Kuechly had a fairly quiet day but still played well while Thomas Davis had a few standout moments like his fourth quarter sack but also saw more than a few receivers beat him in coverage. As mentioned, these two also were essential in keeping Ingram and the running game under 100-yards. There wasn’t much of the usual flash but it was still a solid overall performance from this group.
It was certainly an afternoon to forget for this usually prolific defensive backfield. They allowed Brees to throw for 282-yards and three scores and each of those scores was to a wide open Saints receiver. They allowed Brandin Cooks to beat them deep on a long 54-yard touchdown and failed to shift their coverage on at least two plays, allowing Benjamin Watson and Brandon Coleman into the end zone as well. It seemed as though there was a lack of communication on a number of plays as the Panthers secondary failed to trade off in coverage on multiple occasions resulting in Saints completions. Kurt Coleman did record his sixth interception on the year and newly acquired cornerback Cortland Finnegan showed some promise but it was not a good day for this group as a whole.
NFL history was made in this matchup as it saw an extra point block get returned by the defense for the first time ever. What should have tied the game at 14-14 instead gave the Saints a three point lead. Once again, the Panthers field goal protection unit faltered.