The play neither won the game for the Carolina Panthers nor convinced the Miami Dolphins that they would lose it. The Carolina Panthers had the ball first and 10 from their 30, second quarter, holding a 3-0 lead.
Based on the way the Panthers had lined up, the Dolphins prepared for a run to the right. Instead, quarterback Cam Newton faked a handoff and swept left.
He had the ball, he had a smile and he had room to move. You probably could see Newton’s smile from section 512. He sprinted until defenders reacted and closed in, running out of bounds after a 12-yard gain.
The Panthers would reach the end zone eight plays later to push their lead to 10-0.
I don’t know how Carolina fans would react if the opposing quarterback smiled after a 12-yard run. But Newton ran with abandon, and with joy. He has fun, and invites the rest of us to join him.
If you were a Carolina fan Monday, you did. The nationally televised shots of Charlotte were consistently impressive. So were the Panthers.
Every unit on the Carolina roster played well in the 45-21 dismissal of Miami. This includes a group that has been maligned most of the season – the offensive line. Malign the line.
Jonathan Stewart ran well. When he attains momentum, more than one defender is required to bring him down. He attained momentum Monday because he was adept at finding open space, space his line created.
Rushing has long been who the Panthers are. It’s their foundation, the rock on which all other offense evolves. Run well and good things will follow. But until the last two weeks, their rushing this season had been anemic. Coming into the Monday night game, Stewart and rookie Christian McCaffrey both averaged fewer than 3.0 yards per carry. Stewart, who rushed for 110 yards on 17 carries Monday, pushed his average up to 3.3 yards, McCaffrey to 3.0.
Stewart also jumped over Cordrea Tankersley, the 6-1 rookie cornerback from Clemson. Why? Because he’s 30, and he still can.
When the Panthers made the Super Bowl, Stewart averaged 4.1 yards per carry.
Carolina has missed tight end Greg Olsen this season. But the Panthers had a good replacement in Ed Dickson. When center Ryan Kalil went down, there was no Dickson level replacement.
Kalil, a center, is a leader on the line and in the locker room. He’s bright and accomplished and fundamentally sound, and the line moves to his beat. That the line was so strong without him is a testament to how far it has come. Newton wasn’t sacked. The Panthers averaged 8.1 yards per carry.