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Carolina Panthers aren’t Super Bowl good, but they are 3-0

(L-R) Carolina Panthers linebacker Ben Jacobs, defensive tackle Kyle Love, linebacker Luke Kuechly congratulate linebacker Thomas Davis on a play vs the New Orleans Saints during fourth quarter action on Sunday, September 27, 2015 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. The Panthers defeated the Saints 27-22.
(L-R) Carolina Panthers linebacker Ben Jacobs, defensive tackle Kyle Love, linebacker Luke Kuechly congratulate linebacker Thomas Davis on a play vs the New Orleans Saints during fourth quarter action on Sunday, September 27, 2015 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. The Panthers defeated the Saints 27-22. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Just for something different, Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera, wouldn’t you like to win a game by 20?

“I’d like to,” Rivera says. “It certainly would make life a lot easier, that’s for sure.”

The Panthers blew out Jacksonville on the road by 11, handled Houston at home by seven and, on Sunday, whipped New Orleans at home 27-22. The quarterbacks they’ve beaten are Blake Bortles (Jacksonville), Ryan Mallett (Houston) and Luke McCown (New Orleans). Carolina has won by an average of 7.6 points if you’re keeping score at home.

So what do you think?

I think that for only the fourth time in their 21 seasons the Panthers are 3-0.

The other 3-0 seasons were 1996, 2002 and 2003. In ’96, they advanced to the NFC Championship Game. In ’02 they followed those victories with eight straight losses and finished 7-9. In ’03 they won their first five games, finished 11-5 and advanced to the Super Bowl.

The Panthers do not look like a Super Bowl team.

They go through periods in which they collect penalties; they were penalized 10 times Sunday for 88 yards.

McCown, whose best work as an NFL quarterback has been holding for field goals and doing commercials, completed 31 of 38 passes for 310 yards. He threw short passes and often got rid of the ball quickly.

But Carolina’s pass rush was nothing more than occasional. McCown was sacked once, and that was a run on which he ran out of bounds at the line of scrimmage. McCown’s commercials are for Verizon Wireless, and there were times in which he could have stood in the pocket, pulled out his cell phone and made a call.

So why are the Panthers 3-0? They’re 3-0 because they haven’t had to do their best work to win. They’re 3-0 because they didn’t fold or panic when they lost star linebacker Luke Kuechly to a concussion. They’re 3-0 because when there’s a play that determines the outcome, they make it.

Several players were outstanding Sunday, among them Cam Newton, who threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third score. Greg Olsen caught both touchdown passes and six others, and amassed 134 receiving yards. Ted Ginn Jr. continues to make his case as the fastest 30-year-old in Charlotte, the Carolinas and the world. He caught four passes for 93 yards, the longest of them 55 yards. The surprise isn’t that Ginn is a force in this offense. The surprise is that he rarely was a force for his other employers.

Offensive coordinator Mike Shula called a great game. Carolina’s first play from scrimmage was a 13-yard run by receiver Philly Brown. Shula regularly sent Olsen and Ginn deep. The Saints couldn’t stay with Olsen, and Shula spent the afternoon proving it.

The play of the day was made by cornerback Josh Norman. With 77 seconds remaining, Carolina’s defense staggering and the Saints 23 yards from a victory, McCown went deep down the right side to Brandin Cooks. If Ginn isn’t the fastest man on the field, Cooks is.

Norman didn’t care. He stayed with Cooks as McCown laid the ball up. Cooks is 5-10 and Norman 6-feet. Norman left the turf as if propelled, and he made one of the prettiest interceptions in team history. He landed hard on his back but he was not going to drop that ball.

“I kind of knew that God was going to give me wings to fly,” Norman says.

Plays such as this apply pressure to general manager Dave Gettleman to sign Norman, who will be a free agent after the season. Norman is from South Carolina and likes Charlotte. But he’s the kind of guy who would be happy no matter where he landed.

If Gettleman gives Norman the money he and his agent want, he’ll be in a hole next season when defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short are in the position Norman is now.

Gettleman is adamant that he doesn’t negotiate during the season. The policy makes sense. As the next game approaches, why distract a player?

After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next week, however, the Panthers have 14 days before they play Seattle. Maybe Gettleman makes a bye-week exception. Can you envision the Panthers without Norman? I can’t. He’s a very good cornerback, a very good guy and a very good quote.

If Norman continues to make plays, maybe they win one of these weeks by 20.

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