The Carolina Panthers are 2-0. The last time they were 2-0 was – you’d have to go all the way back to 2014. The last time they were 3-0 was 2003.
What do you make of them after they opened with a victory at Jacksonville and on Sunday beat Houston 24-17 at Bank of America Stadium?
They haven’t been terribly impressive. All they’ve done is play well enough to beat teams they should beat.
If the Texans had a good quarterback, the Texans might have won. But the Texans don’t. They had the first pick in the 2014 draft, and selected South Carolina defensive end (now linebacker) Jadeveon Clowney. Only two quarterbacks went in the first round, Blake Bortles (whom the Panthers handled last week) and Johnny Manziel.
When Carolina signed quarterback Cam Newton to a contract worth more than $100 million, many of you complained. But if you have a good team and a mediocre quarterback, you are Houston.
With Ryan Mallett leading the offense, every Houston drive was up hill and into the wind. He completed one pass of more than 19 yards. The Texans have some great and some good players. But the only way they were going to win was if Carolina allowed it.
As is their tendency, the Panthers started slowly. After three drives they had amassed two first downs. They didn’t score until 11:30 remained in the second quarter.
You know what they did well? They went to their playmakers. Ted Ginn Jr. had dropped a pass early in such a way that he appeared to be mad at the ball. But he caught a 25-yard touchdown pass that put the Panthers up 7-3.
In the fourth quarter, Cam Newton went to Philly Brown. Brown left Johnathan Joseph on a crisp post route and Newton left the ball for Brown to run down in the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown.
What did you think of Brown’s work?
Ginn said he had no problem with Brown.
“Y’all got a problem with him,” Ginn said. “That’s my boy.”
A few weeks ago many Panthers’ fans wanted Brown, and sometimes Ginn, to run a post pattern into the end zone, out of the stadium, beyond city limits and across the state line.
But Ginn and Brown started at receiver Sunday. Why? Because they can fly. Ginn is likely to be the fastest player on whatever field he steps, and Brown is not far behind him.
Lost amid the drops is that they repeatedly get open.
“You saw what Philly Brown is capable of,” says Panthers coach Ron Rivera. “I was really proud.”
Carolina’s defense was about what you’d expect it to be. The Texans were without their best runner, Arian Foster. They rushed for only 61 yards. Carolina’s Jonathan Stewart rushed for 62 yards and Newton rushed for 76.
Newton scored on one of the top 10 2-yard runs in NFL history. Newton dropped back to the 7 and took off for the end zone. As he crossed it, safety Rahim Moore, who is 6-1, hit Newton low. Newton flipped and would have planted the landing his landing if defensive end Jared Crick, who arrived late, hadn’t helped him to the ground.
Newton gave the Panthers the lead and every judge but the Russian gave Newton a 10.
The game was closer than it needed to be. Houston reached the Carolina 14 with 20 seconds remaining. The Texans, who clearly were inferior, were that close to tying the score.
But they didn’t.
Next Sunday the Panthers get New Orleans, which is 0-2, in Charlotte. For the first time this season the Panthers will face a fully grown quarterback in Drew Brees.
But thus far Brees hasn’t played like Brees. He was 24 of 38 in Sunday’s home loss to Tampa Bay with a touchdown and an interception. He was sacked four times and had a passer rating of 80.5. Tampa Bay rookie Jameis Winston’s rating was 114.6.
The Panthers have a fine opportunity. Neither flash nor a flip will be required.
All they have to do, one more time, is play well enough to beat a team they ought to beat.