Carolina Panthers: 2013 Week 12 CAR at MIA

Comeback Cam does it again for Panthers

November, 24, 2013

MIAMI -- Riverboat Ron Rivera, let me introduce you to Comeback Cam Newton.

The Carolina Panthers are starting to rack up nicknames as fast as they are wins.

Yet another one might have been born during Sunday's 20-16 victory over the Miami Dolphins as Newton engineered his second consecutive last-minute touchdown drive, running Carolina's winning streak to seven straight.

Newton's 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen with 43 seconds left came less than a week after he threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. with 59 seconds left in a 24-20 Monday night victory over the New England Patriots.

But the win against Miami may never have materialized had Newton's coach not shred his conservative play calling earlier this season for what has been dubbed his Riverboat Ron mentality.

Rivera successfully gambled on fourth-and-1 from his own 41 in the third quarter to set up a touchdown, then successfully gambled on fourth-and-10 from his own 20 with 2:33 remaining to set up the game winner.

The latter gave one the feeling this might be a team of destiny. There was almost a sense of inevitability this would be another Carolina win after the 19-yard completion to wide receiver Steve Smith.

"It's a relief," Smith said. "We've been getting dog-cussed and talked about how bad we are, we're pretenders and all that stuff. We'll still hear a little bit of flak from people and fans and naysayers, this team is not for real.

"We'll see next week. 'Cause obviously, this week has surpassed and we survived, so it will give y'all something to talk about next week."

Carolina (8-3) will go for its eighth consecutive victory when Tampa Bay visits next Sunday. Yet despite the win streak that is setting the stage for an NFC South showdown with division-leading New Orleans (9-2) in two weeks, the Panthers still play with a chip on their shoulder, like they have something to prove.

Players are far from satisfied with getting past a Miami team that didn't play like it had been distracted by NFL investigators being in house all week.

"I feel pissed," defensive end Greg Hardy said. "I've got to go get ready to play another game next week."

Hardy was angry because the Panthers, with their sloppiest effort in two months, were in danger of losing all the momentum they'd gained. They made what Rivera called "silly" missed assignments and penalties that allowed Miami (5-6) to be in position to win until the final gun.

They made two, in Rivera's words, "scary" plays by allowing Miami wide receiver Mike Wallace to get behind the secondary for a 53-yard touchdown in the first quarter and a 57-yarder in the second which set up a field goal that gave the Dolphins a 10-3 lead.

They almost made another on the next-to-last play when Wallace found himself deep, near the end zone, with single coverage by safety Mike Mitchell.

How close was it?

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/MCTCam Newton's Panthers outscored the Dolphins 14-0 in the second half.
"My heart about fell out of my chest," said defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, who ended the game with a sack of quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Play was so sloppy at times that Rivera suggested his players "disrespected" the Dolphins in the first half with their play.

"Before I say anything, I hope you guys understand one thing: That Miami Dolphins team is very tough and resilient," said Rivera, reminding that the Dolphins played hard despite the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin bullying scandal.

But these Panthers are tough and resilient, too. In past years, had they played like they did in the first half it would have been a blowout loss.

"We wouldn't have been able to recover from it," left tackle Jordan Gross said.

Remember, this is the same team that, after a 24-23 Week 2 loss to Buffalo, was 2-14 under Rivera in games decided by a touchdown or less. Now it has won three straight by a touchdown or less, beginning with a 10-9 victory at San Francisco in which Newton engineered a fourth-quarter drive that led to the decisive field goal.

"When you're a good team I think you get more good fortune than other times," Gross said.

The Panthers are a good team because they won a game like this. They are a good team because their quarterback continued to play at a level that has him in the MVP conversation.

Newton is resilient, too. He took a hit so hard on his first play that he called a timeout to make sure he hadn't bitten his tongue off.

"I was reading about horror stories of football and a guy swallowed his tongue, so I didn't want that to happen," said Newton, who was spitting blood on the sideline. "I had to feel around for it for a minute, and I felt it so I was good."

Newton and the Carolina offense felt their way around Sun Life Stadium for most of the first half. They struggled to find a tempo until they went to an up-tempo, quick-huddle game at the end of the half.

It won't get the attention of the fourth-and-10 completion, but the play Newton made with eight second left in the first half set the stage for the comeback.

He dropped the snap, quickly picked it up and tossed it to wide receiver Brandon LaFell in the flat. LaFell raced 29 yards down the sideline before stepping out of bounds with a second on the clock.

That led to a 46-yard Graham Gano field goal that cut Miami's lead to 16-6.

Newton and the Panthers were in control the rest of the way. The league's third-ranked defense, without sack leader Charles Johnson (knee), held the Dolphins to 119 yards in the second half and the team played more like the one that beat San Francisco and New England.

"We became lazy in the first half," Smith said. "We underestimated that team. They're a good team. They've got a great defense. We had to improve and improve quickly, because it was getting ugly."

In the end, it was another Newton comeback thanks to another gutsy call by a head coach who believes his offense can do nothing wrong on fourth down.

"I kind of felt like a couple of times we were going through the motions like they they're supposed to lay down," Rivera said of the first half play. "This is the NFL, and at any point in time anybody can beat anybody.

"This was not an easy victory. This was a hard victory. This victory tested us."

And provided perhaps another nickname for a team that is looking to make a name for itself.

Panthers have work to do in secondary

November, 24, 2013
MIAMI -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera didn't say he was going to make changes to his secondary after Sunday's 20-16 victory over the Miami Dolphins, but don't be surprised if he does.

The week after starter Josh Thomas was beaten deep on a couple of plays against the St. Louis Rams, including a 63-yard touchdown that was nullified by a penalty, the cornerback was inactive.

Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott also sat cornerback Josh Norman this season after he missed some plays.

After watching Miami wide receiver Mike Wallace torch cornerback Captain Munnerlyn for a 53-yard touchdown and a 57-yard catch that set up a field goal, and after watching him get behind safety Mike Mitchell near the goal line on the next-to-last-play, Rivera hinted something had to change.

Or he could make more changes.

"Getting over the top,'' Rivera said. "Your job is to keep it in front of you and you have to. And we're going to address that and make sure it gets corrected. We're going to play the guy that does things that we ask them ... to do it the right way.''

Rivera didn't mention names. It's highly unlikely he would make a change with Munnerlyn, who has been Carolina's steadiest corner all season. He has pointed to Mitchell on several occasions as the inspirational leader of the secondary, so a change there would come as a surprise.

But Rivera obviously wasn't happy, to the point he almost couldn't enjoy the win.

"It almost certainly has to be corrected,'' Rivera said. "We cannot allow those things. That's disappointing. A couple of things we're going to address and get corrected. We have to because we can't allow that. We don't give ourselves a chance to win games. We've got to play smart.''

Munnleryn, who for the past few weeks has argued Carolina's secondary that came into the season as a weak link wasn't getting respect, took responsibility for Wallace's big plays in the first half.

"It's my fault,'' he said. "I sat on his route and thought a comeback was coming, but I stuck to the route and lost him. I have a sharp memory and I'll pick my game back up.''

Mitchell didn't seem concerned that Wallace was going to catch the last deep pass and spoil Carolina's comeback.

"No way I was going to let him catch the ball,'' he said.

And no way will Rivera sit back and watch deep passes get behind his secondary.

Stay tuned.

Fourth-and-10 game changer break down

November, 24, 2013
MIAMI -- It's fourth down and 10. Two minutes and 33 seconds are on the clock. The Carolina Panthers are at their own 20-yard line and trailing 16-13, in jeopardy of seeing their six-game winning streak end.

But there is no panic in the huddle.

There's almost a sense of calm.

Quarterback Cam Newton lines up in the shotgun. Wide receiver Steve Smith is double teamed with the safety behind him. He runs what he calls a "post'' although the Panthers have another name for it.

He gets his body in front of the safety and Newton hits him in the chest. Smith, as he typically does, picks up a few extra yards on his own before going down for a 19-yard reception.

First down.

"Fourth-and-10 in the NFL on the road is about as good as it gets,'' tight end Greg Olsen said.

That Olsen caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Newton with 43 seconds left to give the Panthers a 20-16 victory helped a bit, too. But Carolina's winning streak that was extended to seven never would have been possible were it not for fourth-and=10.

Head coach Ron Rivera never hesitated to go for it even though he had one timeout and the two-minute warning to potentially get the ball back if he punted.

"We've got to do it,'' Rivera said. "We've got to do it.''

The players never thought twice about it, either. They already had converted a fourth-and-1 for the sixth time in eight attempts earlier in the game. That this one required nine more yards didn't faze them.

"We all believe,'' tackle Jordan Gross said. "We believe in each other. I didn't sense panic. But never was a feeling of hopelessness.''

That Newton is playing with a level of confidence he hasn't had since college made it possible. He took none of the credit for making the play, which also says a lot about him.

"It's just Agent 89 [Smith] doing what he does best,'' Newton said.

That the play went to Smith should come as no surprise. That's who Newton goes to when his back is against the wall. More times than not, Smith comes through.

The rest of the 12-play, 80-yard drive that used three minutes and 30 seconds seemed easy.

"After that fourth-and-10, you kind of felt the momentum drift in favor of us.,'' Newton said.

All that was left was for Newton to pay homage to LeBron James by mimicking the Miami Heat star's signature celebration move that concludes with a pounding on the chest and salute.

"I'm in the 305 area code where he has reigned supreme with him, [Dwayne] Wade and Chris Bosh,'' Newton said of James, who 24 hours earlier hit a game-winning field goal almost as clutch as the fourth-and-10 pass. "I'm big fans of those guys.

"I know LeBron and I kind of owe him for doing my [Superman] celebration when he came into Charlotte. So anytime I had an opportunity to come here, I was going to give a shout back to those guys.''

Rapid Reaction: Carolina Panthers

November, 24, 2013

MIAMI -- A few thoughts on the Carolina Panthers' 20-16 victory against the Miami Dolphins:

What it means: The streak goes on. The Panthers, despite themselves, won their seventh straight game to improve to 8-3 and move toward a huge NFC South showdown against New Orleans in two weeks. I say despite themselves because they looked like the team having to deal with distractions for much of the day, struggling to defend the deep pass and looking sloppy on offense. A holding penalty that negated a first down in Miami territory with about six minutes to go typified the day. Yet the Panthers kept this one close enough to win against a Miami team fighting for its playoff survival. In past years this one would have been a blowout loss with all the mistakes.

Stock watch: Three straight comebacks for quarterback Cam Newton. Time to call him Comeback Cam? A 19-yard completion to Steve Smith on fourth-and-10 from his own 20 was huge to eventually set up a game-winning 1-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen with 43 seconds left. But he set the tone on the first series of the third quarter. Newton rushed four times for 35 yards, including an 8-yard run on fourth-and-1, and capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run.

Exposed: The Panthers hadn't given up more than three pass plays of 20-plus yards in any of the past three games. They gave up two of more than 50 in the first half -- one for a touchdown -- and three of 20 or more. They should have given up another as Mike Wallace was in a different zip code when quarterback Ryan Tannehill overthrew him in the third quarter.

Riverboat Ron lives: This might have been the gutsiest of coach Ron Rivera's fourth-and-1 calls. He went for it from his own 41-yard line, the first time this season he's done that in his own territory. Newton made him look good with an 8-yard run for the first down. Carolina has now been successful on fourth-and-1 six times on eight attempts since Rivera was called out for being conservative and not going for it at Buffalo in Week 2. Newton then converted a fourth-and-10 play with just over two minutes left from his own 20. Not sure there's an official stat on that one.

Bad day for Ginn: Wide receiver Ted Ginn had his second chance this season -- the other against San Francisco -- to make a statement against a former team. He dropped a deep pass on which he had badly beaten the secondary, had two questionable fair catches inside his own 10, and didn't field a punt around the 10 with one defender to beat for a big gain.

What's next? The Panthers play host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Bank of America Stadium. They defeated the Bucs 31-13 in a Thursday night game in Tampa on Oct. 24.
MIAMI -- A look at the first half between the Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins:

Miami looked like the team on a six-game winning streak and Carolina the team facing a week's worth of distractions as it went into halftime with a 16-6 lead.

The Panthers were sluggish on offense and the secondary looked more like the one that began the season with a lot of questions marks instead of the one ranked fifth against the pass.

Here's how it unfolded:

Bad omen I: First the Panthers failed to turn an interception into a touchdown on the game's first series. Then Graham Gano had a 50-yard field goal attempt blocked, the first this season and first for the Panthers since last season against Washington.

Bad omen II: Quarterback Cam Newton was hit hard on Carolina's first play and was slow getting up, appearing to spit out blood. He was hit hard more times than the Panthers probably care to have in the first quarter.

Bad omen II: Carolina's secondary, that has played exceptionally well the past two months, was beaten for a 21-yard completion and 53-yard touchdown pass during a three-play stretch midway through the first quarter. Cornerback Melvin White, who struggled against the Patriots, was beaten on the first. Corner Captain Munnerlyn was beaten badly by Mike Wallace on the second.

Bad omen III: Newton was given a yard and first down on the last play of the first quarter. Miami challenged and it was ruled Newton's knee was down short of the first down.

Bad omen IV: The Panthers challenged a 57-yard reception by Wallace, again against Munnerlyn, and lost. The Dolphins turned that into a 32-yard field goal and a 10-3 lead.

Bad omen V: Newton threw an interception with just over two minutes left in the first half, setting up Miami for another field goal and a 16-3 lead.

Good omen I: Newton dropped the snap on the next-to-last play of the first half, picked it up and found Brandon LaFell for a 29-yard gain that set up Gano's 46-yard field goal to end the first half.