Grading the Carolina Panthers for Sunday’s game at New England.
A Quarterback: What a difference a week (of practice) makes. Cam Newton, who got an F for his showing vs. New Orleans, was superb with three TD passes and one running TD. Newton was in a rhythm after a first-quarter INT, and was effective as a runner.
B Running backs: Fozzy Whittaker gave the offense a jolt with a 28-yard TD catch. Jonathan Stewart overcame a third-quarter fumble with a big gain on the game-winning drive, although Christian McCaffrey never really got going.
A Receivers: Starting wideouts Devin Funchess and Kelvin Benjamin both had huge games and caught everything thrown to them. Funchess’ third-down catch kept the final drive going, and TE Ed Dickson also was a bigger factor.
A Offensive line: Newton was sacked only twice, and the first one was a scramble in which he got back to the line of scrimmage. Left tackle Matt Kalil bounced back from a rough outing vs. the Saints to stone Dont’a Hightower and the Patriots’ other edge rushers.
B Defensive line: Julius Peppers had the second two-sack game of the season and increased his team-leading total to 4.5. DT Kawann Short also had a sack, and former Patriots DT Kyle Love had two hits on Tom Brady.
B Linebackers: Luke Kuechly had a game-high 14 tackles, including 10 in the first half. Shaq Thompson added 10 tackles in extended action playing for Thomas Davis, whose reps were limited by a rib injury.
C-plus Secondary: The secondary did a good job limiting the damage despite playing most of the game without Kurt Coleman, who left with a knee injury in the second quarter. The Panthers had two defensive backs who weren’t with the team during the preseason: S Demetrious Cox and CB Kevon Seymour both held up OK.
B Special teams: Graham Gano drilled the game-winner after missing a PAT in the third quarter. Michael Palardy only punted once (for 35 yards). McCaffrey was more effective as a punt returner (12.5-yard average) than a kick returner (19.3).
A Coaching: The Panthers were left for dead after their abysmal loss to New Orleans. But Ron Rivera kept his players focused during a distraction-filled week, and Mike Shula had a good game plan that involved more running from Newton.