It took them almost three years, but now at long last Ron Rivera has his first signature win as the Carolina Panthers head coach. In a game that turned quickly into a defensive struggle, the Cats won a game they had been known for losing, beating the 49ers 10-9. In the end, that’s what it took for Carolina to finally get themselves some publicity and firmly into the playoff discussion.
This game was important for the Panthers because not only did it show the team has one of the best, if not the best defense in the NFL, but it also proved the team can win without Cam Newton playing his best game. Newton did make some key third down throws to sustain drives in the fourth quarter but overall Newton was shaky at times. He finished 16/32 for 169 yards.
This game was all about the defense. Other than a long touchdown run by DeAngelo Williams, the game lacked any pizzazz whatsoever. San Francisco jumped out to a 9-0 lead early in the 2nd quarter and wouldn’t score again. The Panthers D held the Niners to just 151 yards of total offense including giving up just 4 total yards of offense in the fourth quarter.
The Carolina defense succeeded in containing Colin Kaepernick, one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL, by running an array of delayed blitz packages and getting pressure from the dominant front seven that eventually led to 6 sacks.
Looking back on this game, you can definitely make the case this was not only the most important win of the season, but maybe one of the biggest wins in franchise history. Going on the other side of the country into one of the toughest places to win against the defending NFC champs didn’t seem plausible a few weeks ago.
The Panthers’ win sets up a huge primetime matchup on Monday night with the New England Patriots; another hot team coming in at 7-2. Similar to the game in San Francisco, this contest will show just how good Carolina’s D is.
Tom Brady presents a tough challenge for the Panthers. Whereas Kapernick can beat you with his mobile ability, Brady beats you with accuracy and fundamentals. Bottom line, this game will show the league if the Panthers can be a team that can make a deep playoff run and not just one who can contend for a playoff spot.
Steve Smith, the face of the franchise, stated after the season opening loss to the Seahawks that the Panthers would “see them again in January” referring to the playoffs. People at the time raised their eyebrows and some even laughed. No one is laughing now.
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