The Carolina Panthers absolutely dominated Miami on “Monday Night Football,” crushing the Dolphins 45-21 with a performance that looked very playoff-worthy.
And the playoffs is where this team will be headed if it keeps playing like that. The Panthers will enter their bye week with a 7-3 record and feeling very good about themselves. This game resembled one of those 2015 beatdowns the Panthers used to put on their opponents during their 15-1 season.
Luke Kuechly broke open a tight game with an interception of Jay Cutler late in the second quarter and the Panthers holding a slim 10-7 lead. From there, almost everything went right for the home crowd. Carolina’s offense would end up scoring TDs on a remarkable five straight possessions. The Panthers played so well that Derek Anderson got mop-up quarterback duty at the end of the game and had Cam Newton playing victory music -- from Adele -- in the postgame locker room. Some thoughts on what happened:
▪ If you think the Carolina Panthers seem to be pretty good on “Monday Night Football,” you’d be right. The Panthers have now played exactly one season’s worth of MNF games over their history and are 10-6 in the prime-time showcase.
▪ The worst part of Monday night’s loss: Curtis Samuel’s ankle injury looked quite serious. I won’t be at all surprised if he ends up on injured reserve and the Panthers sign another veteran receiver.
▪ Carolina surpassed its total number of wins from the 2016 season, and did so 10 days before Thanksgiving.
▪ If Kawann Short doesn’t make the Pro Bowl again this year, an injustice will have been done. Short could absolutely not be moved in the center of Carolina’s defensive line and made a huge fourth-down stop in the third quarter. On the other side of the line, Miami’s overpaid defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was ineffective and mostly invisible.
▪ Jonathan Stewart’s 18-yard run in the second quarter was his longest of the year. He was way more effective than this game than he has been, with a season-high 110 yards, and his offensive line deserves some major credit. Stewart didn’t start, as Carolina opened with rookie Christian McCaffrey.
▪ All three of the running backs were effective – Cameron Artis-Payne and McCaffrey both scored rushing TDs, and McCaffrey added another on a reception for the first multi-touchdown game of his NFL career. And then there was Cam Newton, who had a 69-yard sprint straight up the middle on the zone read that finished with him on the ground, doing a delighted shimmy. Carolina had more than 200 rushing yards for the second straight game.
▪ It wouldn’t be a Carolina Panthers season without a Brenton Bersin sighting, and sure enough here he came on a 12-yard slant pass in the second quarter.
▪ What was promising about this game for the Panthers is that it wasn’t won mostly by the defense, as so many of them have been this year. Although Kuechly’s interception was big, the Panthers defense also allowed 21 points to the NFL’s lowest-scoring offense and also gave up a 66-yard run for Miami’s first rushing score of the season.
But with Newton throwing four TD passes and controlling the game like a yo-yo on a string (254 passing yards, 95 rushing and a funny on-the-ground shimmy that looked like a prone homage to Steph Curry), Carolina never trailed and was never really in danger. The MNF crew noted that Newton is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw at least two touchdown passes in each of his first six MNF appearances.
▪ It’s only two games in, but Devin Funchess (two TD catches, 92 yards) looks more than capable of taking over Kelvin Benjamin’s former No.1 receiver role. “Just having fun out there,” Funchess said.
▪ To the guy who keeps wearing a Rae Carruth jersey to the Panthers’ games – stop doing that.
▪ For all the angst about Graham Gano in the offseason, he’s been ridiculously good so far in 2017. Gano is 20-for-21 on field goals through 10 games.
▪ I was listening to the “MNF” broadcast while watching the game from inside the stadium and got a kick out of trying to imagine this: Jon Gruden kept saying Miami was going to put “a man and a half” on Newton so he couldn’t scramble. I wouldn’t want to be the half.