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Carolina Panthers report card 09.22.13

Reporter Joseph Person grades the Carolina Panthers’ performance against the Giants.

B+ QUARTERBACK : Cam Newton made plays with his arm and feet, and was more active and effective in the read option than in the first two games. Newton tied a career high with three touchdown passes, and added a rushing score.

A RUNNING BACKS : DeAngelo Williams had his first 100-yard rushing game of the season, carrying 23 times for 120 yards and a 5.2-yard average. Fullback Mike Tolbert had a 2-yard touchdown run, and both Williams and Tolbert were strong in pass protection.

B+ RECEIVERS : Brandon LaFell had three catches for 53 yards, including a pair of touchdowns. Steve Smith came back in the game after landing hard on his hip, and finished with three catches. Ted Ginn continues to beat defenses with his speed.

B OFFENSIVE LINE : After a dismal performance at Buffalo, the Panthers’ linemen had a good day against the Giants’ talented front four. They protected Newton, who was sacked once, and did a nice job opening holes for Williams.

A DEFENSIVE LINE : The front four set the tone from the start by sacking Eli Manning three times in the Giants' first two possessions. Defensive end Greg Hardy dominated Giants tackle Will Beatty, finishing with three of the team’s seven sacks, which tied a franchise record.

B LINEBACKERS : Former Giant Chase Blackburn started in place of Jon Beason at weakside linebacker after Beason’s struggles in the first two games. Blackburn had two tackles, but his knowledge of the Giants’ schemes helped the entire defense.

A DEFENSIVE BACKS : Despite missing three starters because of injury, the secondary more than held its own. Captain Munnerlyn and Drayton Florence held Hakeem Nicks without a reception, and undrafted rookies Robert Lester and Melvin White accounted for all three of the Panthers’ takeaways.

B SPECIAL TEAMS : Graham Gano booted a 53-yard field goal and had only one of his seven kickoffs brought out of the end zone. Punter Brad Nortman averaged 48.5 yards on two punts. But the punt return team had another turnover when the ball hit a blocker.

A COACHING : Ron Rivera kept his players focused despite the 0-2 start and speculation about his future. Coordinators Sean McDermott and Mike Shula drew up smart game plans. McDermott gave his beat-up secondary help from the linebackers, and Shula mixed in the zone read and had Newton take shots deep.

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