Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers beat Washington, former teammate Josh Norman 26-15

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (19) makes a reception in front of Washington cornerback Josh Norman (24) in the first half at FedExField on Monday.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (19) makes a reception in front of Washington cornerback Josh Norman (24) in the first half at FedExField on Monday. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

In the highly anticipated face-off between Cam Newton’s Carolina Panthers offense and former Carolina star corner Josh Norman and Washington, Newton finished on top.

Newton threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-15 victory over Washington on Monday night.

With the score tied 3-3, Newton took a hit on a sore shoulder that irked him all week. But on the following series, Newton shined. He marched Carolina downfield and capped the eight-play, 84-yard drive with a 30-yard touchdown to a wide-open Ted Ginn Jr. – right in front of Norman – putting the Panthers up 10-3 at the end of the first quarter.

After veteran safety Kurt Coleman picked off Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins on a seam pass and returned it 37 yards to end the first quarter, Carolina drove for a 23-yard field goal that made it 13-3.

It was Coleman’s second interception in as many weeks and his 11th as a Panther.

Washington made it 13-9 with a 5-yard touchdown punch-in by Robert Kelly. The extra point was no good.

The Panthers couldn’t have started the second half any better.

Wes Horton strip-sacked Cousins and recovered the fumble on the first play of the third quarter, and Carolina got the ball back on the 1. A 1-yard play-action pass by Newton to fullback Mike Tolbert earned a touchdown after a Tolbert stretch, and the Panthers led 20-9.

Graham Gano, who finished four of five on field goals, knocked in a 23-yard field goal late in the third quarter to improve the Panthers’ lead to 23-9.

Dustin Hopkins kicked a 26-yard field goal to bring Washington within 11 points.

Then Gano’s lone miss, a 38-yarder that was wide left with 5 minutes, 37 seconds left to play, allowed Washington to cut the lead to eight on a 34-yard field goal with 3:44 to play.

When it came time for Gano to put the game away, he did. With 1:07 left to play, he hit a 41-yard field goal to bump the Panthers up 26-15.

Three who mattered

Josh Norman: Norman gave up 58 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter. The touchdown appeared to capitalize on a miscommunication between him and safety Donte Whitner, who lost speedy Ginn in the end zone as Newton threw him a 30-yard pass – right in front of Norman. Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart also hurdled Norman on an 11-yard run during the second quarter.

Norman had a shot at a pick in the third quarter on a deep ball meant for Ginn, but couldn’t hang on and settled for the pass breakup.

Cam Newton: After four straight weeks in which he completed less than 50 percent of his passes, Newton had a nice game, completing 21 of 37 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns.

Wes Horton: Horton’s huge sack/strip and recovery on Cousins helped set the tone for the second half. Carolina was able to score two plays later and push an 11-point lead in the third quarter.

Observations

▪  Defensive tackle Paul Soliai was a healthy scratch, and Kyle Love started in his place.

▪  Newton took a shot from linebacker Ryan Kerrigan early in the first quarter and landed on a shoulder that had been sore all week and had limited him in practice. The Panthers took a time-out to give Newton’s arm a quick evaluation, and finished the drive with a punt. Newton remained in the game.

▪  Stewart ran for the most yards in a game since December of 2014 with 132 yards on 25 carries.

▪  Newton also was flagged for taunting after tossing the ball at Washington’s Trent Murphy after a play. On the play, Newton scrambled and slid, and as he slid Murphy appeared to draw helmet-to-helmet contact. In that case, the penalties would have offset but only the taunting was called by the official, which knocked the Panthers out of field goal range.

▪  Newton had success against Washington in the air when using the middle of the field, and especially when targeting Ginn and Philly Brown. The two combined for seven catches and 106 yards.

▪  The Panthers defensive line and linebacker unit limited Washington to just 29 yards. Washington entered the game averaging 109 per game.

Worth mentioning

▪  Linebacker Luke Kuechly was inactive despite being cleared from the concussion protocol Saturday. The move seems to be in the best interest for Kuechly’s health (though coach Ron Rivera said Kuechly wants to play), as he had missed three games in back-to-back years because of concussions.

▪  Rookie corner Daryl Worley, who goes by “Bruce Wayne” on Twitter, wore Batman and The Joker-themed cleats in warmups. Carolina’s former standout corner, Josh Norman, was known for quoting “The Dark Knight” and referring to his style of play as “Dark Knight-mode.” Worley changed his Twitter avatar to a photo of “The Joker” that said “Will the real Batman please stand up?”

▪  Gano played with a broken bone in his plant foot. He suffered the injury last week against the Chargers, but kept his streak of 12 consecutive field goals made alive until the fourth quarter, when he missed a 38-yarder.

▪  Carolina maintained the NFL lead in sacks, with 41.

▪  Washington tight end Jordan Reed was ejected after throwing a punch at Coleman at the end of the third quarter.

They said it

“It’s miniscule, but we will take it.” – Rivera on the Panthers’ 0.0004 percent chance to make playoffs.

“No one had doubted each other, and that’s the truth.” – Panthers safety Coleman.

“That’s why we are playing. We are playing to win. We are going to continue to play to win.” – Rivera

Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071, @jourdanrodrigue

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