CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers (3-3) didn’t take the bait. They kept their cool. Instead, they matched physical play with the frustrated St. Louis Rams (3-4) at Bank of American Stadium Sunday, winning 30-15. After a penalty-free first quarter, the Rams tried to flex their muscle and tried to intimidate the Panthers. But the home team played smarter…baiting the Rams into several costly penalties in the second-half. Some observers said they felt like they were sitting ringside for a fight. Bottles were thrown…tempers flared…and who really knows what happened under the piles?
Carolina won for the second week in a row – the first time they’ve had back-to-back wins in September or October since 2009. They are at .500 for the first time since Week 2 last season and can climb above it Thursday night with a victory at winless Tampa Bay.
Playing before an announced crowd of 72,686, quarterback Cam Newton led the Panthers offense with his arm and his timely running. Newton had nearly a perfect first-half, missing only one pass and he had one other dropped. Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn, Jr. and Greg Olsen led the receivers.
St. Louis came into the game with one of the league’s worst run defenses, but seemed to bottle up the Panthers backs at times. Frustrated in his inability to get into the end zone from the one-yard line twice, fullback Mike Tolbert was called for a penalty when “something” happened under the pile. The penalty cost the Panthers a touchdown, but Graham Gano, who was a perfect 3-for-3 in field goals today, connected to limit the damage.
But the Panthers controlled this game from the beginning. On the first offensive play of the game, Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn returned St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford’s first pass 45 yards for a touchdown. This was Munnerlyn’s fourth interception returned for a touchdown in his career.
St. Louis answered, sort of, ten minutes later, tackling Tolbert in the end zone for a safety. The Rams did have a time of possession lead for the quarter, but the tone had been set by the Panthers defense.
In the second quarter, Gano connected with a 37-yard field goal, and the Panthers took a 10-2 lead. The Rams came right back, on a 15-play, 70-yard drive culminating with a 28-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein, cutting the Panthers lead to 5 points.
Not to be outdone, Carolina responded with a quick drive of their own – an 8-play, 80-yard drive ending with a Tolbert touchdown, bringing the halftime score to 17-5 in favor of the blue-clad home team. (Incidentally, this was the first time all season the Panthers have worn their alternate uniforms. They will wear them again in Week 9 against Atlanta.)
The Panthers received the second-half kick and ate 8 minutes and 14 seconds off the clock on a 13 play, 61 yard drive, ending with a 31-yard field goal by Gano. At this time, the Rams looked to be done…but they weren’t.
Following the kickoff, which resulted in another touchback, St. Louis went on a quick strike drive…3 plays, 80 yards resulting in a Bradford touchdown pass to Zac Stacy. And it seemed like the Rams were back in the game.
But the Panthers showed what they were all about, driving 72 yards on 8 plays ending with Newton passing to Smith for the best touchdown of the day. The veteran wide receiver caught the pass several yards short of the goal line, juked twice and faked two defensive backs out to score. It was his 800th career reception.
Going into the final quarter, the Panthers showed they would be physical and would not be intimidated by the Rams. They led 27-12, and dominated the time of possession in the third quarter. They controlled the ball for 13:17 of that quarter and set the tone for the rest of the game.
Overall, this was one of the best games played by the Panthers. They dominated many aspects – line play, quarterback play and defensively. They were able to get into the Rams’ heads a bit, drawing penalties against St. Louis that disrupted several offensive sequences. They knocked quarterback Sam Bradford out of the game (report: torn ACL; done for the season) and defensive end Chris Long was ejected for punching Panthers right guard Chris Scott in the third quarter. As he was leaving, a fan toss an aluminum bottle at him on his way to the tunnel. And, they out-coached the Rams. And that’s saying something. Jeff Fisher is known as a smart coach who enjoys the physical aspect of the game.
The Panthers expected the kind of chippy play from the Rams, the league’s most penalized team in 2012. They did complain about cheap shots taken at middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and at Newton.
On the second drive of the second half, Newton took a real shot from defensive end Robert Quinn, and was taken out of the game for one play. When he returned, left tackle Jordan Gross locked up with Quinn, triggering a melee that ended with Long taking a swing at Scott.
“My job is to protect the quarterback. I felt like he took a shot at him,” Gross said of Quinn. “It was legal, but I didn’t think it was the right thing to do.”
Newton said Quinn also had some “explicit” words for him after the hit, which angered the Panthers. Long suggested he happened to be the player in the scrum who got caught.
“You know how that goes. They’re always going to get the second guy, so I need to be smarter than that,” Long said. “I play this game with a lot of emotion. I won’t change that, but there has to be a point where I can reel it in and I can’t let people provoke me.”
The Panthers will play Thursday night at Tampa Bay, and coming off this physical game, they seem to be in good shape. A short turnaround, though, is always tough.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera: “The play calling on both sides of the ball was outstanding. (Offensively) we’re taking the pressure off the quarterback and giving him time to make plays. Cam had a 136.3 quarterback rating. I was very impressed with our guys up there today.
(Kawann) Short and Star Lotulelei both played a heck of a football game. Those two young guys are really coming along, and because of that you see that (linebacker) Luke Kuechly isn’t making as many plays. It’s to Luke’s detriment but to our benefit. I believe Luke would take that any day of the week. This was a very physical bunch we played against and I was happy with the way we played.”
The coach said he thought his team kept its cool for the most part, but “at the same time you only want to take so much.”
Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross on one word to describe the game and what it meant: Relevance. We could actually be relevant.” He continued, talking about the physical play during the game: “Coincidentally, every time I’ve played one of (Jeff Fisher’s) teams, they’ve been like that. They show that on film. Especially defensively, they’ve got good young players and a lot of times when you face good young players, comes that certain chippiness.”
Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn on his first-play-of-the-game interception: “I can’t take credit for it. Quintin Mikell made that play. He hit the arm of Sam Bradford and it was like a punt return to me. It was floating in the air, I ended up catching it, picking it up and taking it to the house.”
Panthers free safety Mike Mitchell: “We’re not out here to do anything else besides play hard football. If you don’t want to play hard, physical football, don’t come out here. That’s what we’re here to do. If you’ve got the ball, we’re going to hit you within the confines and rules of the game. I thought they lost their composure.” Mitchell, avoided getting a penalty Sunday, but did get into repeated confrontations with St. Louis offensive guard Harvey Dahl, who got two of them: “They wanted to try to pick a fight with us. But they had four quarters to do that so waiting until the last couple of minutes – it’s a little late for that. … When he (Dahl) came back at me again, for the third time, that’s when I was like, ‘C’mon, dude, you’re a joke. We’re blowing your team out. Get out of our face.’”
Panthers tight end Ben Hartsock: “I played on Jeff Fisher’s teams in Tennessee. He’s a tough guy. That’s what his teams do. I played for Ohio State, and this felt like an old Ohio State-Michigan game – a backyard brawl.
Panthers receiver Steve Smith was furious at St. Louis cornerback Janoris Jenkins, whom he said had learned his wife’s name and repeatedly talked about her: “He thinks he’s Deion (Sanders). He’s not.” And Smith had a lot more to say…
Below is the transcript from Smith’s post-game interview:
Take us through the touchdown, looks like you made some guys missed. “I’ll let Janoris Jenkins go over it on film on Monday.”
Did you point to him? “Yes, I directly pointed to him.”
Did you think you’d get a taunting penalty? “Don’t give a damn.”
What was the dance you did? “Well he thinks he’s Deion (Sanders). He’s not.”
To get your 800th catch against him… “He’s just another notch on the bedpost. That’s 800. He ain’t no different.”
For your 800th to be a touchdown, what’s that mean to you? “Just another dude.”
Did you have any run-ins with him before? “No. What I don’t like is a young guy, comes in, obviously his first time ever using the internet and Google, and he Googles information about me, talks about my wife and stuff like that. That’s kind of some of the (B.S). I just don’t play with.”
What specifically was he saying? “That’s all I’m going to say. I don’t play them games. When you try to take it personal like that, I don’t have any great humbling things to say. So he can take his (butt) back to St. Louis and watch the (expletive) film because I don’t play them games. And if I see him in the streets I’m going to bust him in his (expletive) mouth.
On your touchdown celebration, was that a little bit extra? “When you embarrass people you rub it in their face. When your dog (urinates) on the carpet, you rub it in his face.”