Reporter Joseph Person grades the Carolina Panthers’ performance against the Seahawks.
C- QUARTERBACK: Cam Newton struggled against Seattle again, completing 12 of 22 passes for 171 yards, with an interception on a backhanded shovel pass intended for tight end Greg Olsen. Newton’s 61.0 passer rating was his lowest since a 60.6 rating against Miami last year in Week 12. Newton also lost a fumble when he tried to keep the ball on a zone-read play with Jonathan Stewart.
A RUNNING BACKS: Stewart had 16 carries for 79 yards, his most since a 79-yard effort against New Orleans in Week 17 of 2011 – a span of 20 games. Stewart has battled a ton of injuries the past two-plus seasons, but he’s healthy and running as hard and well and he has in several years. More good news: DeAngelo Williams could be back for the New Orleans game Thursday.
C RECEIVERS: Ron Rivera benched Kelvin Benjamin for the first three plays after the rookie was late for a meeting Saturday. Benjamin had the biggest gain for either team – a 51-yard catch over Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas. But he also dropped a pass in the end zone. Olsen was a non-factor with one catch in three targets.
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D OFFENSIVE LINE: Injuries are taking a toll on this group. With starting tackles Byron Bell and Nate Chandler both missing all or parts of several series, undrafted rookie David Foucault was forced to play a lot of snaps. Newton was sacked three times in the fourth quarter, but was pressured all game.
B DEFENSIVE LINE: Charles Johnson continued his recent resurgence with seven tackles, and second-year defensive tackle Kawann Short added four tackles in his first career start. Rookie end Kony Ealy, who had his first sack, could be a boost to the pass rush if he continues to develop. Star Lotulelei had a batted pass and a tackle for loss.
B LINEBACKERS: Outside linebacker Thomas Davis made a game-high 10 tackles, including a jarring hit on running back Robert Turbin on a check-down pass. Davis also came clean on a blitz to force a Russell Wilson incompletion. Luke Kuechly had seven tackles and a pass breakup, and A.J. Klein had one tackle in limited action.
B DEFENSIVE BACKS: Cornerback Josh Norman, who missed two games following a Week 5 concussion, looked like a player with fresh legs. Norman played physical press coverage, made tackles in run support and intercepted Wilson in the end zone on a pass that went through Marshawn Lynch’s hands. The secondary played well until the final drive, when Wilson completed 4-of-4 passes for 53 yards.
B SPECIAL TEAMS: With rookie Philly Brown out with post-concussion symptoms, Brenton Bersin handled the return duties. Bersin fumbled his first chance on a punt, but the Panthers recovered. His 49-yard kickoff return to start the second half was a team high. Graham Gano was 3-for-3 on field goals, including a 46-yarder that gave the Panthers a 9-6 lead with 4:37 remaining.
C COACHING: The Panthers are 0-2-1 so far during the most daunting portion of the schedule – a five-game stretch against 2013 playoff teams. On the Panthers’ final offensive play, coordinator Mike Shula called for a screen pass to Stewart – on fourth-and-25. It showed how little faith Shula has in the line as currently constructed. But most play-callers still would have tried to throw a deep pass and hope for a catch or pass interference penalty.