Reporter Joseph Person grades the Carolina Panthers’ performance against the Packers.
C QUARTERBACK: Cam Newton never got into a great rhythm, completing 17 of 31 passes for 205 yards, with one touchdown, one interception and a season-low passer rating of 72.6. Part of the problem was the Packers’ pressure (three sacks). But other times Newton had a clean pocket and was airmailing receivers. Backup Derek Anderson completed 5-of-8 in mop-up duty.
B RUNNING BACKS: After missing three games with a sprained knee, Jonathan Stewart ran hard in his return. Stewart forced a lot of missed tackles in rushing 14 times for 55 yards and a 3.9-yard average. With Fozzy Whittaker out and Darrin Reaves dealing with a calf injury, Chris Ogbonnaya (four carries for 12 yards) was the only other back to touch the ball.
C RECEIVERS: The receiving statistics looked respectable, but a lot of the yards and catches came in garbage time. During the Panthers’ first three possessions, no one in the receiving corps was getting open. Newton unsuccessfully targeted Jerricho Cotchery early in the game. Later he started looking to tight end Greg Olsen, who caught eight passes for a career-high 105 yards.
C- OFFENSIVE LINE: This injury-depleted group tried to hang in against the Packers, who unveiled a new defensive front by lining up outside linebackers Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews as interior linemen. Right tackle Nate Chandler gave up one sack and also was beaten on a play early in the game that got Stewart dropped for a loss.
C DEFENSIVE LINE: Charles Johnson had his best game of the season, finishing with six tackles – nearly matching his total of eight from the first six games. Johnson also had his third sack. No one else did much up front. Wes Horton had a costly offside penalty, and one of the tackles was slow getting to the sideline, resulting in a flag for 12 men on the field.
D LINEBACKERS: It was a frustrating day for Luke Kuechly, who had a key offside penalty on the Packers’ first drive and a couple of missed tackles. Kuechly was ejected in the third quarter for unknowingly throwing an elbow at an official while being pulled off a pile. Kuechly was accountable after the game, saying he shouldn’t have lost his cool. He finished with a season-low eight tackles.
F DEFENSIVE BACKS: The Legion of Gloom secondary allowed Aaron Rodgers to complete 19 of 22 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns. Rodgers’ first score was a 59-yard laser to Jordy Nelson, who got behind corner Antoine Cason then made a move on safety Roman Harper, who took a bad angle. Free safety Thomas DeCoud picked up a personal foul penalty on the Packers’ third touchdown drive.
C SPECIAL TEAMS: Rookie Philly Brown left with a concussion after getting drilled on a second-half punt return. He and Brenton Bersin combined to average 9 yards per punt return, and Brown averaged 27.5 yards on two kick returns. Wisconsin native Brad Nortman had a busy day with seven punts, netting 42.7 yards with a long of 67.
D COACHING: Ron Rivera’s clock management at the end of the first half was suspect. Trailing 28-0, offensive coordinator Mike Shula called a run for Stewart, hoping to catch the Packers in a soft cover-2. Rivera didn’t call timeout after Stewart’s rush for no gain, allowing 29 seconds to tick off. The Panthers settled for a field goal. The bigger issues are the lack of discipline and repeated bad penalties that Rivera described as “self-inflicted” damage.