With just under two minutes to go, Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera took his headset off. This game wasn’t going to require a last minute decision from Rivera or even better, one from his players. The embattled coach could finally enjoy this one. Rivera looked up at the scoreboard and smiled. He couldn’t help himself. Not only was the 38-0 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday one of the biggest wins in franchise history, it couldn’t have come to a team more desperate for a win (if you don’t count the Giants or Redskins).
The team came into the game with a lot of question marks; most notably, Ron Rivera’s job status. After the game, a lot of Rivera critics had been silenced. How long that will last is anyone’s best guess.
What Panther fans saw on Sunday is what this team can accomplish not just when it plays four quarters, but what it can do when they bring their A game and boy did this team bring it on Sunday. In a game where the Cats tied a franchise record in sacks with seven, and started two undrafted free agents in the secondary, it was hard to find a spot the team didn’t dominate.
On offense this game was ultimately marked as a coming out party for Brandon LaFell. LaFell had gone almost unnoticed until this game despite being continually named the number two receiver in the Panthers’ offense. On Sunday he showed that he can be the number two guy while catching two touchdown passes of 2o and 16 yards respectively. To the delight of Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Shula, Ted Ginn also came up huge. For the second straight week, Ginn caught a touchdown pass of 4o yards or more, leaving the Giants’ secondary befuddled.
Defensively, you can’t say enough about the play of the Panthers defensive line, particularly Greg Hardy. Hardy has always been a big talker and repeatedly spoke highly of himself and the Panthers d-line. The former Ole Miss standout helped himself get closer to his unthinkable sack goal of 50 sacks with three against the Giants. 4 other Panther defenders also totaled a sack including rookie Star Lotulelei. Simply put, the Carolina D took a huge load off a very inexperienced secondary by continually putting pressure on Eli Manning and only allowing 150 total yards of offense.
The Panthers will enjoy a bye week this weekend before they head to Arizona to take on the Cardinals. The next 4 games are crucial for the Panthers given their next four opponents are a combined 2-10 so far this season. If the Cats want to stay in the playoff hunt they will need to win most of those games, if not all of them.