Grading the Carolina Panthers for Sunday’s game against Minnesota.
B Quarterback: Cam Newton didn’t have stellar numbers, but he provided two huge plays – a Houdini-act TD pass to Devin Funchess after escaping pressure and a 62-yard run that led to the go-ahead touchdown. Newton is the first QB in the Super Bowl era with at least two runs of 60-plus yards in a season.
A Running backs: Jonathan Stewart set the tone with a 60-yard TD run on the Panthers’ third offensive play. Stewart finished with 103 yards and a career-high three TDs on 16 carries. Christian McCaffrey blamed himself for Newton’s lone INT.
B Receivers: Damiere Byrd made his first career start and finished with a team-high five catches, with a long of 21 yards. Funchess had a nice back-shoulder catch vs. Xavier Rhodes in addition to his TD catch later in the game. Greg Olsen had trouble separating on his surgically repaired foot and was targeted only once.
B Offensive line: The blocking on Stewart’s long run was just as it had been drawn up, with Matt Kalil and Taylor Moton making nice down blocks and a pulling Andrew Norwell sealing the edge. Matt Kalil allowed only one sack to Everson Griffen (for a loss of 2). Ryan Kalil played his first full game since Week 1.
A Defensive line: DT Kawann Short had sacks on each of the Vikings’ last two series. The D-line accounted for five of the six sacks on Case Keenum, with Mario Addison (strip sack), Julius Peppers and Kyle Love all getting to Keenum as well.
B Linebackers: Luke Kuechly tied a season high with 14 tackles and had his first sack of the season. Thomas Davis added four stops and was on the field a lot more than he was the previous week when dealing with a hamstring injury at New Orleans.
A Secondary: Daryl Worley and James Bradberry had the first two interceptions by Panthers cornerbacks this season. They also combined for 15 tackles, including nine stops by Worley. Colin Jones saw a lot of playing time at the ‘big nickel’ with Shaq Thompson sidelined.
B- Special teams: Graham Gano hit a 41-yard FG to improve to an NFL-leading 96 percent accuracy (24 of 25). Punter Michael Palardy had only a 34.3-yard net, which was hurt by Marcus Sherels’ 29-yard runback.
A Coaching: The Panthers cleaned up their protection issues after Newton said Minnesota was “hip” to their protection schemes last season. Mike Shula found a way to put up points vs. the league’s No. 2 defense, while defensive coordinator Steve Wilks had an aggressive plan for Keenum.