- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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Playmakers make plays: That was the mantra by coach Ron Rivera after the last-second loss to Buffalo. It apparently took. Defensive end Greg Hardy had three sacks after getting none in the first two games and the front four collected six of the team's seven sacks. The much-maligned secondary allowed a completion percentage of 52 percent after giving up 72.2 percent to Seattle and Buffalo. Quarterback Cam Newton rushed for a touchdown and threw for three. Wide receiver Brandon LaFell had two TD catches after coming in with four catches. You get the picture.
Fourth-and-what? Rivera took a lot of grief last week for not gambling on fourth-and-1 from the Buffalo 21 with 1:42 remaining and a three-point lead. So when the Panthers went for it on fourth-and-1 from the New York 2 with 2:38 left in the first quarter of a 0-0 game, the fans cheered. What they didn't know was Rivera initially kept the offense on the field because he thought Carolina got the first down on the play before. But since the offense already was there and the defense was playing well, Rivera decided "we're going for it anyway." The Panthers not only got the first down, they got the touchdown. They also went for it on fourth-and-8 from the New York 31 with 4:02 remaining. They ran up the middle for a yard. It wasn't a gamble. It was a mercy play.
Inside the Chase: For two weeks, linebacker Chase Blackburn wondered when he would get on the field for a defensive snap. It finally happened against his former team. Blackburn played 17 snaps, or 33 percent of the plays. That was good news for Jon Beason, who has been struggling coming off knee surgery. He played only one snap a week after playing 31. The Panthers also took advantage of Blackburn's knowledge of the Giants. "When you have a guy who knows the other team and you sit there and you listen to him when he is watching tape, before the play even happens he calls the play," Rivera said.
Don't forget DeAngelo: Amidst Newton's four touchdowns and a stifling defense, Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams rushed for a season-high 120 yards on 23 carries. He's averaging 97 yards rushing in three games, which puts him on pace for 1,552 yards. The good news is he may not have to carry the load much longer. Rivera says Jonathan Stewart is on schedule to return from the PUP list after two more games. "Double Trouble" could be back.
Out of deep trouble: Newton was 3-for-12 on passes of 15 yards or more before Sunday. After starting 0-for-5 against the Giants he completed his last five passes of that length for three touchdowns. Two went to LaFell, who has been criticized for not being more of a go-to guy as the No. 2 receiver. “It’s great because it gets people to stop coming down on him, saying he’s not doing his job,” said Steve Smith, the No. 1 receiver.