Scott Says

One big plus for Panthers: They still play in NFC South

The biggest gift for the Carolina Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton (1)? They play in the NFC South.
The biggest gift for the Carolina Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton (1)? They play in the NFC South. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

The enormous schedule in the Carolina Panthers’ locker room lists only six of the 16 regular-season games in red, highlighting them in a way that makes it obvious the Panthers consider them the most important.

It’s not prime-time games. It’s not home games. The red stands for divisional games, and the Panthers have three of those coming up in the next three weeks: At Atlanta (1-1) Sunday, home vs. Tampa Bay (1-2) on Oct. 10 and then at New Orleans (0-2) on Oct. 16.

As has been usual the past few years, Carolina is benefitting from the fact that no one else in the NFC South is a powerhouse either. The Panthers have won the division for three straight years and could assume command of the South once again if they can sweep those next three games.

Of course, Carolina won’t do anything close to that if the Panthers (1-2) play like they did Sunday. Still it bears remembering that the three other best teams in the NFC right now (Seattle, Minnesota and Philadelphia) all are located in other divisions. The Panthers are in the right spot once again. They just have to play better.

▪  Minnesota cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, a former Panther, disparaged Devin Funchess Sunday after Funchess had zero catches for zero yards.

“I don’t think he is that good – No. 17,” Munnerlyn said. “So we weren’t really worried about him.”

If I’m Funchess, I don’t hide from that quote. Instead, that quote goes on my locker and makes me work harder. Funchess too often follows a fine game with a bad one, and he did so again Sunday. He touched both balls that were thrown to him and couldn’t come up with either one. He was absolutely no factor.

▪  The Panthers used to have all sorts of trouble covering tight ends. When Jimmy Graham was still at New Orleans, he generally ate the Panthers’ lunch twice a year.

That problem had mostly dissipated, but it’s back with a vengeance this season. Remember that the Panthers allowed a 75-yard touchdown pass to a San Francisco tight end last week, and in this game Kyle Rudolph had seven catches for 70 yards and a touchdown against them. The TD came against Shaq Thompson, but several of the other catches came vs. Luke Kuechly.

▪  After throwing only 10 interceptions all last season, Cam Newton has five through three games.

▪  Carolina’s special teams just got blistered Sunday. From the punt return for a TD to Graham Gano’s 54-yard miss to the numerous times that Ted Ginn had no room to run because Minnesota’s coverage guys had beaten Carolina’s blockers, it was nasty.

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