The NFL’s golden rectangle is 30 feet long by 160 feet wide. Two of those rectangles bookend every football field and the ultimate point of every play is to visit one of them.
The rectangles are the end zones, of course, and a large part of the Carolina Panthers’ success this season stems from the fact that they have never explored them more often than they did in 2015.
Carolina scored a team-record 59 touchdowns this past season, which led to a team-record 500 points, which led to the Panthers going 15-1 and pacing the NFL in scoring (31.25 points per game) for the first time.
Yes, Graham Gano also had 146 points worth of field goals and extra points, which was also a team record. But as Carolina coach Ron Rivera often says, you don’t beat good teams in the NFL with field goals. You beat them with touchdowns.
Minnesota nearly beat Seattle without a TD in the first round of the NFL playoffs – only Blair Walsh’s hooked 27-yard field goal spoiled the outcome for the Vikings – but that was on a day cold enough to freeze your eyelids.
On Sunday, TDs will be the order of business for Carolina. The Panthers scored four of them to edge Seattle, 27-23, in October – each on 80-yard drives. They will likely need three to four more to beat the Seahawks again Sunday in a divisional playoff game in Charlotte.
A touchdown is football’s most basic goal, much like a goal in soccer or a basket in basketball. And when the team you pay the most attention to isn’t scoring, it can be very frustrating.
I have covered the Panthers for all 21 of their seasons, and the only time I really didn’t like my job was in 2010.
That’s not because the Panthers were 2-14. A losing team can be entertaining to write about. The 1-15 Panthers of 2001, for instance, really weren’t that bad to watch.
The Panthers’ second-best TD total – 50 TDs in 1999 – was due in large part to a career year from quarterback Steve Beuerlein, who set a still-standing team record with 36 passing TDs.
But 2010?! Oh, man. Jimmy Clausen was the incredibly overmatched quarterback. John Fox, who had done a good job for the majority of his nine-year tenure, had no answers. The Panthers had some offensive weapons – Steve Smith, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams were all on that team – but they absolutely couldn’t score.
That 2010 team scored 17 touchdowns in 16 games. It was horrendous viewing. If Carolina scored one TD at some point, you could pretty much leave the game right then confident in the knowledge that you had seen all of the Panthers’ TDs for the day.
In 2015, on the other hand, TDs came from everywhere. Certainly, Cam Newton was a big part of that. His 45 total TDs (35 pass, 10 rush) led the NFL in that statistic. Newton had a hand in 76.2 percent of the Panthers’ TDs. In large part because he found the end zone so often, the Panthers quarterback is the prohibitive favorite to be announced as the league MVP on Feb. 6th.
But it wasn’t just Newton. The Panthers didn’t have a special-teams TD all season, but their defense had four “pick-six” touchdowns – two by Josh Norman in the first four games and two more in the Dallas Thanksgiving Day game.
And there were lots of contributions on offense. Ted Ginn Jr. had the best season of his career with 10 TD catches. Greg Olsen had seven. Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert combined for 11 TDs, but don’t forget that Fozzy Whittaker and Cameron Artis-Payne each scored once.
And backup tight end Ed Dickson scored three times, with the most memorable being the 57-yard run he made after plucking Jonathan Stewart’s fumble out of the air at Tampa Bay.
“Stew doesn’t fumble often,” Dickson said. “To just be there and have his back – I was more excited about that than the touchdown. But it was one I’ll always remember.”
Pro Bowl linebacker Thomas Davis wasn’t among the 14 Panthers who found their way into the end zone this past season. In fact, the linebacker nicknamed “TD” has never scored a TD in his 11-year career. But he has no doubt what the most important of those 59 TDs of the 2015 season were – at least so far.
“The one that stuck out to me is the one against Seattle – Cam Newton to Greg Olsen at the end of the game,” Davis said, speaking of the 26-yard TD that was the winner vs. the Seahawks in October. “That will be the touchdown I will remember for a long time. The Seattle game has been a game that has slipped away from our grasp a few times in that same situation. In previous years, they found a way to make that play. This year, we found a way to make that play. And now we just have to do that again.”
The Panthers set a team record with 59 TDs scored this season. The 14 players who scored them were:
That’s just his rushing total; likely NFL MVP also had 35 pass TDs
4 multiple-TD games helped produce career scoring high for WR
TE has had at least 5 receiving TDs every year since 2008
6 rushing, 1 receiving TD despite missing season’s last 3 games
Rookie WR used big body to score several times on slant patterns
Has fine speed, although he did not have a catch for 40 or more yards all season
Pro Bowl fullback had only 1 of these running the ball; 3 came receiving
‘Jerricho Clutchery’ had huge TD catch to win game at New Orleans
Plucked fumble out of air vs. Tampa Bay and scored from 57 yards out
His two pick-six TDs occurred in the season’s first four games
Rookie RB’s first NFL TD came in final game of year vs. Bucs
Pick-six vs. Dallas came only 59 seconds into the game
Scored on 16-yard run in Panthers’ 38-0 lambasting of Atlanta
Pick-six vs. Dallas was first career TD for ‘Luuuuuuuuke’
Best and worst years
Carolina easily set a franchise record this season for most TDs scored, breaking the mark set by the 1999 team led by quarterback Steve Beuerlein. The top three and bottom three TD marks in franchise history.
(tie) 2007, 2006, 1997