After an abysmal game against the Saints in week 1, it seems that the Panthers have identified that part of the problem was starting rookie Thomas Davis at Strong Safety. The rookie who self-admittedly had a rough season-opener against the Saints was benched in favor of veteran Marlon McCree.
"We talked about it and we thought with the style of offense we were seeing, we had Marlon play a bigger role," Coach Fox said after the game. "Thomas Davis played a lot of football today for us and will continue to do so in the future."
Davis came in primarily as a linebacker on 3rd downs, and to his credit, held Patriots TE and former Georgia teammate Ben Watson in check the entire game. Watson only caught 1 pass the entire game. Davis also put pressure on Patriots QB Tom Brady, and got his first NFL Sack in the process.
Another big problem coming into the Patriots game was the Panthers 3rd down defense. The Panthers held the defending Super Bowl Champions to just 29% in 3rd down efficiency, an outstanding improvement over last week when the Saints were 8 of 13 for 62%.
Coming into the game, the Patriots dynamic tight end duo of Ben Watson and Daniel Graham posed a huge challenge for the Carolina defense. On one play in the first quarter the Panthers' defense validated that concern, as Graham caught a touchdown wide open in the end zone. After that point however, a Patriot TE only caught 1 pass the entire game.
"We studied those guys hard," Panthers defensive captain Mike Minter said of the Patriots. "We knew what they liked to do on third down. We were stressing third down all week. We were disappointed in our outing last week on third down. That was an emphasis. We played aggressively, got pressure and got them off the field."
It definitely was a different Panthers defense on the field. This defense had intensity. This defense wanted it. This defense wanted to win, and didn't play timidly.
"I think we finally came out and played defense our way," said Panthers linebacker Will Witherspoon, whose 2nd quarter interception helped set the defensive tone. "That's Panther defense you saw. That's the way we are going to come out each week and get things done. You've always got somebody who's going to jump start it, but I really think we started that first series. We were sending them three and out, and then from there things fell in our favor. You want to go out and win games, and winning game likes this, especially after the way we played last week, we really wanted to show people what we were made of, and this week we got it done."
What is comforting is that the Panthers realized that week 1's performance was unacceptable. It's one thing to lose and make excuses, come back the next week and lose; it's another thing to take the loss, come back the next week and beat the defending Super Bowl Champions.
"We didn't help ourselves much (last week)," Coach Fox said. "We were in an 0-1 hole. We didn't play very well last week, and it was an excellent football team coming in. It was a rough week emotionally. We had a great week of preparation and I think we executed well today for the most part. We pressured early and tried to eliminate the run game. Tom Brady is a great quarterback and you better do something to disrupt his passing game. Defense-wise, I think our front, our linebackers and coverage did that well today."
"We played good football," Minter said. "We knew we had to get the victory. All three phases showed up to do that."
Defensive intensity picks up against Patriots.
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