Carolina Panthers

Panthers report card vs. Cardinals

C QUARTERBACK : Cam Newton seemed to have trouble throwing the wet ball, seeing a lot of his throws sail on him. Newton had two turnovers – a fumble and an interception on a play when wideout Jerricho Cotchery cut his route short. But he made plays when he had to, picking up 35 rushing yards on seven carries.

A RUNNING BACKS : Jonathan Stewart turned in another workmanlike performance with 123 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. Stewart held onto the ball despite the wet conditions, and scored on a 13-yard run in the first quarter. The seldom-used Fozzy Whittaker had a huge play with his 39-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter.

B- RECEIVERS : Newton and Cotchery did not seem to be on the same page all game, a bit disconcerting in Week 18. The shoulder injury to No. 3 receiver Philly Brown could have a huge impact on the Panthers’ postseason, leaving them without their fastest receiver.

B OFFENSIVE LINE : The line did a nice job blocking on Whittaker’s touchdown, with center Ryan Kalil getting the initial block and left tackle Byron Bell adding a downfield block. The front five allowed Newton to be sacked just once.

A DEFENSIVE LINE : Defensive end Charles Johnson had two of the Panthers’ four sacks, which came on successive plays in the second half. Defensive tackles Kawann Short and Dwan Edwards had the other sacks for a front four that was able to go after Ryan Lindley in the second half.

A LINEBACKERS : Luke Kuechly had a game-high 10 tackles and his interception of Lindley – a play after Newton fumbled – protected the Panthers’ two-score lead and kept momentum on the Panthers’ side. Thomas Davis, the Panthers’ longest-tenured player, added seven stops, including two for loss.

A DEFENSIVE BACKS : With the Panthers playing primarily nickel, Colin Jones was on the field a lot. Jones, the fifth defensive back, finished with five tackles and helped corners Josh Norman and Bené Benwikere keep Arizona’s potent receiving corps in check. Rookie safety Tre Boston had an interception for the second week in a row.

B SPECIAL TEAMS : Punt returner Brenton Bersin muffed a punt after inexplicably dropping to his knees rather than getting away from Drew Butler’s rolling kick. But punter Brad Nortman kept the Cards backed up, pinning them inside their 20 on three of his four punts. Melvin White’s strip of Ted Ginn was one of the biggest plays of the game.

A COACHING : Ron Rivera was not satisfied after the game, talking about the mistakes the Panthers made and how they caught the Cardinals at a good time. But the coaches had their players prepared, particularly on defense. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott oversaw one of the most dominant defensive performances in postseason history.

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