When the Carolina Panthers’ top-ranked defense goes up against the NFL’s lowest-scoring offense, it doesn’t take much.
And in Monday night’s 45-21 victory at Bank of America Stadium, the Panthers got plenty – to the tune of 294 rushing yards and a franchise-record 548 net yards.
▪ Quarterback Cam Newton threw for a season-high four touchdowns, completed 21 of 35 passes for 254 yards and wasn’t intercepted. He also ran for 95 yards on five carries, including a 69-yard run.
▪ A week after fumbling twice and hearing questions about his job security, Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart ran 17 times for a season-high 110 yards.
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▪ Wide receiver Devin Funchess had two touchdown catches, of 28 and 32 yards, and a season-high 92 receiving yards.
▪ And the defense did its part, holding Miami to 17 first downs and 313 net yards, a number inflated by Kenyan Drake’s 68-yard touchdown run and a 75-yard Miami touchdown drive against the reserves late in the fourth quarter.
The victory sends Carolina into its bye week at 7-3, on a three-game winning streak and a half-game behind the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South. The Dolphins are 4-5 and have lost three straight.
Are the Panthers good enough to make the playoffs?
“We are good enough, but I think we can be better,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “We’re chasing New Orleans, and the other teams in our conference as well. We’ve got to stay on our game.”
Three who mattered
Christian McCaffrey: A couple of sweet moves on Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso – one for a first down, one for a touchdown that gave Carolina a 10-0 lead, that harkened back to Spartanburg but hadn’t been seen much in the regular season. McCaffrey also caught a 2-yard touchdown pass.
Jonathan Stewart: The North-South version deserves far more playing time than the East-West version.
Luke Kuechly: Interception, six tackles. For the No. 1 defense in the NFL. Kuechly has a team-high three interceptions.
▪ McCaffrey returned punts again early, including a 9-yard return after Miami’s initial series. That job had been taken by Kaelin Clay, in part to cut McCaffrey’s workload. McCaffrey returned two punts for 10 yards in the first quarter, Clay took over from there.
▪ Newton’s potential first-quarter interception was overturned on review, but late and across your body is not a great plan. A run for 5 yards – a conservative guess – would have been more prudent, if less spectacular.
▪ Thomas had a Newton-style Sunday giveaway of his own after his touchdown with 2:12 in the second quarter cut Carolina’s lead to 10-7. Couldn’t find a kid, so he found a fully grown Miami fan in Row 1.
▪ Russell Shepard sandwiched two drops around a first-down catch in the first quarter.
▪ Carolina kicker Graham Gano was good from 40 with 1:50 to play in the first quarter for a 3-0 Panthers lead.
▪ After having three kickoffs returned all season, Gano had two sky kicks returned in the first quarter alone. He finished with four touchbacks on eight kickoffs in an apparent strategy move – the touchbacks all came later in the game.
▪ Linebacker Luke Kuechly’s team-leading third interception and a taunting foul on Miami’s Julius Thomas gave the Panthers the ball at the Dolphins 20 in the final minute of the first half. Four plays later, a 7-yard Newton bullet to Ed Dixon gave Carolina a 17-7 halftime lead.
▪ Cameron Artis-Payne got his first touchdown on a 12-yard run with 7:15 to play in the third quarter, making it 31-7.
▪ Drake’s 68-yard touchdown run was the longest rushing play of the season against Carolina’s defense and cut the lead to 31-14.
▪ Panthers center Tyler Larsen left with a foot injury and didn’t return. With veteran Matt Kalil inactive, that left third-string Greg Van Roten as the only healthy center.
They said it
“A lot of people said some things about him, and Jonathan just wanted everyone to understand he ain’t done.” – Panthers coach Ron Rivera.
“There’s something about when the lights turn on.” – Rivera, on Newton’s 6-1 record on Monday Night Football.