Besides a 15-1 record, here’s something else I never would have predicted before the season: Carolina ended up leading the NFL in points scored.
With its 38-10 victory over Tampa Bay, Carolina overtook Arizona (which only scored six in a 30-point loss to Seattle). The Panthers ended up with exactly 500 points in 16 games – their first 500-point season ever. Boosted by a 45-touchdown season by Cam Newton (35 passing, 10 rushing) that should win him the NFL MVP, Carolina averaged 31.25 points per game.
▪ You had to like the way Devin Funchess was catching the ball on Sunday, with seven catches (in eight targets) for a career-high 120 yards as well as his fifth TD reception of the season. Funchess’s lost fumble was the only blemish on what was still the best receiving day the rookie has ever had in the NFL.
▪ It’s hard to quibble with a coach who has gone 15-1, but if I were Ron Rivera I would have benched Newton for safety’s sake and not let him run that last drive with Carolina already leading 31-10 in the fourth quarter. And I also would have kept up at least every half hour or so with the Seattle-Arizona result, since that game (won 36-6 by Seattle) did mean that the Panthers didn’t actually have to win to secure the No. 1 seed. Instead, Rivera made sure no one told him what was happening in the other game and the team made sure the score was never posted on the stadium’s ribbon boards.
▪ Former Panthers star linebacker Kevin Greene now lives in Destin, Fla., but came to Sunday’s game as part of the NFL’s program to bring former players back to selected contests (in this area, that program is shepherded by former Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker). Greene looked good and also had his son Gavin – a high school senior who also plays outside linebacker – with him. He visited the locker room after the game, as did former Panthers running back Stephen Davis.
▪ Panthers cornerback Josh Norman said Mike Evans’ out-of-control stretch late in the fourth quarter and his general behavior during the game amounted to “a peasant throwing rocks at a giant.”
▪ With Ted Ginn Jr. out with a knee injury, kudos to recently signed Robert McClain for catching punts well (and getting an interception at defensive back, too). McClain probably saved 20 yards in field position by sprinting to run down a short punt late in the first half at Tampa Bay’s 49.
▪ Carolina’s rush defense was superb against Tampa Bay, whose Doug Martin had had 106 yards in the teams’ first meeting. That was one of only two times all season the defense allowed 100 to any back. This time the Panthers held Martin to 48 yards in 15 carries.