Scott Fowler

Newton, McCaffrey, and the hidden gem in Carolina’s offensive performance on Sunday

Although Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey will get most of the headlines after Carolina’s 31-21 victory over Cincinnati Sunday, let’s not forget about new offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

Turner called a superb offensive game Sunday vs. the Bengals, including a screen pass that may have been the prettiest one the Panthers have run in franchise history. Afterward, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said Turner’s decision-making Sunday was “what we envisioned” when he hired Turner to replace Mike Shula as offensive coordinator after the 2017 season.

On that screen play, which resulted in a 24-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Anderson, Turner had both of his tailbacks on the field. The entire defense seemed to shift toward McCaffrey, who looked like he would be taking a pitch or short pass to the right. Anderson, in the meantime, sneaked out to the left, caught the screen after Newton’s fake and then had a battalion of three offensive linemen leading the way to the end zone.

Turner also has found many ways to effectively use McCaffrey, who has now had a 100-yard-plus rushing game (Sunday) and a 100-yard receiving game (against Atlanta) in back-to-back weeks. This time McCaffrey had 17 carries before he had a single catch Sunday and also had a career high in touches (30).

But down near the goal line Turner has ultimately remembered where the Panthers’ bread is buttered — giving Newton the goal-line carries on the most critical plays. Carolina was 3-for-3 scoring touchdowns when the offense advanced into the red zone Sunday.

How now, Devin Funchess? It’s hard to get a handle sometimes on the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver. His first touch on Sunday came on a very catchable ball over the middle that was 20 yards downfield — which he dropped.

But Funchess later came through big on a later drive, which he ended with a 4-yard catch in traffic for the touchdown. Lack of separation for Funchess has long been an issue, though, and he’s not utilized as much as you would think he should be on third downs. He did have a big 21-yard gain on third-and-10 in the fourth quarter, however. And on another play Sunday, the Bengals totally forgot about him and he gained 27 yards.

Funchess would end up with four catches for 67 yards – he also came off limping after a fourth-quarter series with about five minutes to go and did not return. He did not specify his injury afterward.

The Panthers’ second home game had a definite lack of buzz compared to their first — although it was actually a far more entertaining game than the one featuring the Dallas Cowboys in the season opener. Carolina had surpassed its point total in that one (16) by the second quarter.

Rookie cornerback Donte Jackson has three interceptions in three games. He’s often compared to Josh Norman, who is a great cover corner but who also has never had more than four interceptions in a single season. Said Jackson afterward, speaking about his reputation for being a big talker: “Nobody likes to look like a liar… the biggest job for a talker is to back it up.”

Two guys I never thought I would be mentioning before the season as key factors in a Week 3 victory — left offensive tackle Chris Clark and backup defensive end Efe Obada. But Clark has come in off the couch to do as good (or maybe better, at least in the short term) a job on Cam Newton’s blind side than Matt Kalil.

And Obada had both a big fourth-quarter sack, another near-sack (overturned on replay) and an acrobatic sliding interception Sunday that would have — and in fact did — make Luke Kuechly proud.

Trouble spots: Carolina’s secondary continues to be a sore spot, particularly at safety. Reserve safety Colin Jones played a lot and showed why he is a reserve when the Bengals were able to isolate him one-on-one in coverage.

Even without A.J. Green (groin injury) for much of the game, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton had his way too frequently (352 passing yards). Also, Kuechly had to miss some time for the second home game in a row in the fourth quarter, this time starting onto the field and then leaving it with 9:55 left in the game, due to cramps and dehydration. But Kuechly returned and intercepted the ball on the final play of the game, Dalton’s fourth pick of the contest.

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