Carolina Panthers

Sacks, takeaways put Panthers, defense back on track in victory over Bengals

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton scored two rushing touchdowns as the Panthers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton scored two rushing touchdowns as the Panthers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. AP

Now that was more like the defense the Carolina Panthers are accustomed to.

A week after the Atlanta Falcons ran over and passed through this Panthers defense with ease, it was clear from the start of Sunday’s 31-21 victory over against the Cincinnati Bengals that that same cavalier attitude wouldn’t be tolerated. And boy, was that defense the exact opposite of cavalier.

Rookie cornerback Donte Jackson had two interceptions, the first coming in the first half when defensive end Wes Horton hit Bengals QB Andy Dalton as he threw. Jackson then bullied the ball away from receiver John Ross, giving Carolina’s offense a prime opportunity to retaliate — which it promptly did, courtesy of a beautifully designed CJ Anderson touchdown catch.

Then in the third quarter, Dalton’s pass at the line of scrimmage got tipped high into the air, giving a handful of Panthers defenders time to get under it. Ultimately Efe Obada — playing in his first career NFL game — got under it and recorded the defense’s second takeaway of the day, which flipped possession back to Newton and the offense again. That drive, Newton ran the ball in himself to extend Carolina’s lead.

With less than five minutes to play, Dalton threw another pass way deep, which Jackson ran back for and also intercepted. And while that third turnover didn’t lead to a third touchdown drive on offense, the Panthers still notched a field goal and pushed their lead to two scores with less than two minutes to play.

And then, with the game essentially over, Luke Kuechly sealed the victory defensively on the last play in the only appropriate fashion: a fourth interception.

Three who mattered

Cam Newton: He didn’t have gaudy passing statistics — just 15-for-24 for 150 yards and two touchdowns — but was consistent as a passer, and his two rushing touchdowns helped Carolina in the red zone when it most needed to score.

Donte Jackson: After hardly practicing all week with a groin injury, the promising rookie corner had his second interception in as many weeks by wrestling the ball away from Cincinnati’s John Ross. He is the first player in franchise history with two picks in his first three career games.

Efe Obada: Obada was the first player from the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program to make a 53-man roster, and he made his first career game Sunday count — Obada had an interception, a sack, another quarterback hit, and a forced fumble that was ultimately overturned.

Observations

On Carolina’s first scoring drive of the game, Jarius Wright made a crucial third-down catch early to keep the possession alive. Then Christian McCaffrey busted out a career-long 45-yard carry as part of his 63 rushing yards that drive to get the Panthers deep into Cincinnati territory. From there, Cam Newton kept the ball on a bootleg from the one-yard line and scored the team’s first first-quarter touchdown this year.

Cincinnati had 23 rushing yards total in the first half, but on its first play of the second half, former UNC star Gio Bernard doubled that yardage. The Bengals finished with 66 total yards rushing.

Including Carolina’s first two games this season against Dallas and Atlanta, the Panthers have allowed their opponents to go a perfect seven-for-seven for touchdowns in the red zone this year.

McCaffrey, whose 14 receptions last week against Atlanta tied a franchise record, instead made headway on the ground against Cincinnati, rushing for a career-high 184 yards on 28 carries. It was his first career 100-yard game on the ground (topping his previous high of 66) and he didn’t record his first target until late in the third quarter.

While Bengals star receiver A.J. Green left the game on the third play of the second half, Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton still carved up the Panthers’ depleted secondary to the tune of 352 yards and two scores. Even taking away Green’s yardage, Dalton leaned on his tight ends — who finished with over 100 yards and nine catches — to expose the middle of Carolina’s defense.

Worth mentioning

With his three tackles today, linebacker Luke Kuechly moved into second all-time in Panthers franchise history. Thomas Davis is the team’s all-time leader with 1,174 tackles, and Mike Minter is third with 953.

Both teams, as well as a number of colleges in North and South Carolina, were sporting a ‘One Carolina’ helmet decal this weekend to show their support for the victims of Hurricane Florence. Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers also donated $100,000 earlier this week to start his own hurricane relief fund.

It was a reunion this week for Christian McCaffrey and Dan Smoker Sr., the hiker he helped save this summer while hiking in Colorado. McCaffrey said earlier this week that the entire Smoker family, Dan Sr. included, would be at Sunday’s game (considering the family is from Ohio).

They said it

“The pass rush really came up big..” – Panthers coach Ron Rivera.

“(Christian McCaffrey’s) ability to run the ball inside, he doesn’t get enough credit for it.” – Rivera, on McCaffrey’s day.

“We can’t let off the pedal. We have to get guys back, keep guys healthy.” – Newton, on goals for the bye in Week 4.

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