In a game that had all the picturesque appeal of the Los Angeles smog, the Carolina Panthers edged the L.A. Rams 13-10 Sunday to win their second game in a row.
Once 1-5, the Panthers have now reached the midpoint of the NFL season at 3-5. Is their season turning around?
“It’s turning right before our eyes,” Carolina quarterback Cam Newton proclaimed.
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This game was won mostly by the Panthers’ defense, which sacked quarterback Case Keenum four times and was helped by the Rams occasionally hitting the “self-destruct” button on offense. The Panthers had to recover an onside kick with 34 seconds to go to seal the win.
Carolina shut the Rams out for the first three quarters and then struggled to the finish line. But finish the game they did, and that in itself was a marked turnaround. The Panthers have now played four games this season decided by a field goal or less. Until Sunday, they were 0-3 in those games.
This was also Carolina’s first road victory of the season. But wasn’t it an ugly win?
“I’ve never heard of a pretty loss,” Newton shot back.
Point taken. Better to win 13-10 then to lose 41-38, as Carolina did to New Orleans a couple of weeks ago.
“Not every game is going to be a blowout,” linebacker Luke Kuechly said, “and it feels good for us to go out there and get a win like that.”
“When you don’t play great and you can win, that’s a good sign in this league,” said Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, who scored Carolina’s only TD on a 9-yard pass from Newton in the first quarter.
Olsen said “3-5 is better than being 1-7” and noted that Carolina is 2-0 after its bye week.
We have two home games coming up (against Kansas City and New Orleans). We can catch our breath, get to .500 and make a run.
“We’ve just got to worry about our business,” Olsen said. “We have two home games coming up (against Kansas City and New Orleans). We can catch our breath, get to .500 and make a run.”
Newton took another beating, getting sacked five times and hit a lot more than that. But a Panthers offensive line that was missing two starters did just enough to keep the team afloat. Carolina made no turnovers and the Panthers defense – helped by two missed field goals, a dropped TD pass and Thomas Davis’ acrobatic interception – didn’t allow a touchdown for the game’s first 59 minutes.
Carolina won the sort of grind-it-out game that it had already lost to Denver and to Minnesota in 2016 – a game that was “about as physical a game as I’ve been involved with,” according to Panthers coach Ron Rivera.
The Panthers defense kept the team from ever trailing by stifling Case Keenum, an NFL quarterback whose range goes from mediocre to terrible.
Man, it was ugly, though – especially on offense for Carolina. The Panthers only had two plays of more than 20 yards. After Olsen’s first-quarter TD, the Panthers’ next six possessions turned into five punts and a missed Graham Gano field goal.
But the Panthers defense kept the team from ever trailing by stifling Case Keenum, an NFL quarterback whose range goes from mediocre to terrible. Why the Rams haven’t already gone to rookie Jared Goff at quarterback I have no idea, and neither did the 86,109 fans inside the 93-year-old LA. Memorial Coliseum.
The chants of “We want Goff!” sprang up early, and Keenum heard repeated boos after every bad throw. Rams coach Jeff Fisher stuck with Keenum, and he did lead the Rams to 10 points on their last two drives of the game.
“I would submit that Case was not the reason we lost this game today,” Fisher said.
When Keenum finally got going, Carolina had already built just enough of a lead to escape. Ted Ginn’s onside kick recovery sealed it and the Panthers took their West Coast win gladly.
The Panthers are now hoping against hope that the ladder they are attempting to climb out of this very deep hole has enough rungs on it.