The Carolina Panthers have hardly been a good offensive team in 2017. Cam Newton’s been off and on for much of the season, they haven’t been able to run the ball effectively, they’ve struggled to incorporate Christian McCaffrey into the offense and they have relied on defense to win them low-scoring games outside of a two-game explosion against the Patriots and Lions. They even traded their No. 1 receiver midseason!
So some good news: Carolina looks like it could be coming around after thumping the Dolphins 45-21 on Monday night in Charlotte. The caveat here is that the Panthers played the Dolphins, a team that does not pass the eye test when you find out they have four wins. But Miami’s defense has been decent this year and it didn’t matter against Carolina, with the Panthers racking up yards in gobs, nearly throwing up a 40-burger before the fourth quarter even began.
The Panthers had 24 first downs and 419 total yards at the start of the fourth quarter en route to a record night for the offense (more on that in a bit). They diminished the Dolphins’ defensive line by loading up Ndamukong Suh with double teams and utilizing the read option to rip off big runs. Things could have been worse, too. Rookie wideout Curtis Samuel dropped a laser from Newton that should have been a touchdown and a number of other unnecessary poor execution moments led to a slightly slow start.
But eventually Jonathan Stewart, who averaged 2.8 yards per carry before Week 10, easily crossed the 100-yard threshold. Cameron Artis-Payne scored a touchdown. Newton, for the second week in a row, rushed for more than 80 yards. Newton has now rushed for more yards than he had all of last year.
Some people will nitpick the claims this offseason about Newton not running as much. Whatever. The offense is better in Carolina if they are letting Cam run. He’s more comfortable in general, and it’s silly to not let the lion roar or whatever.
Carolina is now on a historical rushing run in terms of pounding the rock.
Newton would finish with 95 rushing yards, 245 passing yards and a quartet of touchdown passes. This included two to Devin Funchess that showcased the young receiver’s skillset, including his physicality and speed.
Cam also had a very nice audible on a screen pass to Funchess where the big receiver showed off his speed.
The rookie’s getting it going
Christian McCaffrey didn’t have the eye-popping numbers you might hope, but he did find the end zone twice and appeared to be getting things going a bit on offense. McCaffrey’s had a slow start to his career, especially in the rushing sense. He hasn’t necessarily looked comfortable running between the tackles and it’s felt like, at times, the Panthers forced him the ball in the red zone.
Monday was a reminder just how filthy he can be when he’s moving in space. McCaffrey had multiple moments where he put some serious juke moves on, including this touchdown where he destroyed Kiko Alonso.
This was not the only time that McCaffrey managed to hurt Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso. He also shattered his ankles on an early pass in the flat to pick up a first down. Suffice to say, Alonso will not think back fondly about this evening in Charlotte.
“It was good. It’s always good to get in the end zone,” McCaffrey said on ESPN after the game.
Don’t sleep on McCaffrey laying out some big-time blocks in the passing and running game. Newton, per Suzy Kolber of ESPN, has talked about McCaffrey being an unselfish player for a high-profile rookie. He’s starting to get things going a little bit here.
Record day for offense just the beginning?
The Panthers aren’t going to get a shot at Miami every week — they scored a touchdown on five straight drives and set a franchise record with 548 total yards of offense, per the Associated Press — but they’re now 7-3 and headed into their bye week. The Panthers are going to get Greg Olsen back after their Week 11 bye week, and they’ll probably get center Ryan Kalil back as well.
Carolina gets the Jets on the road after the bye and also have the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers as well as the likely Jameis Winston-less Buccaneers on the schedule. They should win 10-plus games and will have a huge NFC South matchup against the Saints coming shortly.
If it feels like you’ve seen a lot of the Dolphins on your television lately, well, you have. They’ve been featured in a primetime game for three straight weeks now on different networks. The results were not great.
Miami lost 44-0 to the Ravens on “Thursday Night Football” back in Week 8, then followed it up with a 27-24 loss on “Sunday Night Football” to the Raiders last week, and then got blasted into oblivion by the Panthers 45-21 in a game that wasn’t as remotely close as the numbers indicated.
Look, do we need to rehash the Dolphins’ performance? They were awful. They did manage their first rushing touchdown of the season. In Week 10. So there’s that.
The game was 10-7 Panthers at this point and the Dolphins had a shot of making things interesting. Carolina would score, get the ball back after halftime and completely decimate Miami.
Somehow, the Dolphins aren’t out of the playoff race yet. They’re 4-5 now and just a single game back of the Bills for the No. 6 spot in the AFC side of the bracket. Some ugly team is going to end up in the postseason.
The Panthers head into their bye at 7-3 and feeling pretty good about where they stand. They’ll get two weeks to get healthy and prep for a matchup against the Jets in the Meadowlands. That’s not a must-win game but it’s a should-win game with the break and the quality of the Jets; a win there and Carolina can start thinking about the postseason.
The Dolphins square off against the Buccaneers in the makeup game from their Week 1 bye that was disturbed as a result of Hurricane Irma. That is a game no one should want to watch, but it’s going to have some bearing on the AFC playoff race because Miami, with two more games left against the Patriots, badly needs a win.