Tom Sorensen

Were Carolina Panthers a one-hit wonder? It’s too early to say, or to panic

The Carolina Panthers have to better protect quarterback Cam Newton (1) if they intend to approach their success of a season ago.
The Carolina Panthers have to better protect quarterback Cam Newton (1) if they intend to approach their success of a season ago. AP

The Carolina Panthers are 1-2 and one game behind Atlanta in the NFC South. They play the Falcons in Atlanta this weekend.

Carolina’s talent is undeniable. But the beauty of the NFL is that there is a seismic power shift every season, the New England Patriots excepted. Based on Carolina’s close loss to Denver, easy victory against San Francisco and curious loss to Minnesota Sunday, what would you conclude?

I conclude that the Panthers have to better protect Cam Newton, and that Newton can’t hang onto the ball so long that defenders are all but extended hand-written invitations to meet him in the Carolina backfield.

Despite the Super Bowl loss to Denver, Carolina’s offensive line was one of the league’s best last season. Against Minnesota last week, and in the opener against Denver, that line was overwhelmed. If there was an adjustment to be made to negate Minnesota’s rush, the Panthers chose not to make it.

Carolina’s defensive front seven was outstanding last season. But the Panthers have only six sacks this season. Meanwhile, quarterback Cam Newton has been sacked 12 times, which ties him for last in the league.

Is there a reason to panic? Many fans don’t need a reason. It’s how they get through the season. But I can’t find a reason. The Panthers’ leadership is among the NFL’s strongest, their coaching is consistently good and there’s no question they’ll go after the Falcons long and hard.

Newton gets pumped to play football wherever a game breaks out and he’ll be especially pumped playing in Atlanta, his hometown. But the Panthers have to protect him. The Panthers need their vertical routes. If they have to use an extra tight end and keep him into block, so be it. They have to let their playmakers, receivers Kelvin Benjamin, Ted Ginn Jr. and tight end Greg Olsen, run free.

Newton underthrew a couple passes to Ginn. By now, Newton knows how fast Ginn, 31, is. Defenses sometimes appear to be surprised. But as Newton threw deep balls to Ginn, he threw as if he expected to be hit. He was usually correct.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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