Carolina Panthers just keep finding ways to win close games.
A 31-24 win over the Green Bay Packers Sunday keeps Panthers in position to possibly win the NFC South. Now 10-4 they are tied with the New Orleans Saints (10-4) with two games remaining. They’ll need to be at least one win ahead to win the NFC South but if they don’t win the division their ultimate goal is still very much in reach as they are currently slotted in fifth seed holding down a possible wild card spot.
“Lets make sure we focus on the things we need to focus on and that’s us as a football team,” head coach Ron Rivera told the team in the locker room after the win. “Let nothing get in the way in what our ultimate goal is…that’s to win the Super Bowl and that’s the bottom line…everything we do will be about that.”
The defense managed to force four turnovers with the offense playing turnover free football and scoring four touchdowns. With the team clicking on both sides of the football in Sunday’s game, Cam Newton said the team is peaking at the right time.
“We play this game for one reason and that’s to try to get yourself mended up for the long haul…we’re equipped to do that,” Newton said.
What impressed Rivera most about Sunday was how both sides took advantage of their depth. Rotating guys in and out not only makes the team better but keeps the opposition on their heals, Rivera said. In addition the offense spreading the ball around it keeps them dynamic, Rivera said.
“Its pleasing to see those types of things come to fruition,” Rivera said.
Constanty bringing pressure to Aaron Rodgers led to three sacks but more increased interception opportunities. Rivera credited coordinator Steve Wilks for dialing up blitzing calls.
“There’s a certain confidence that you show in your guys and guys feed off the energy you bring,” Rivera said. “I’m very happy for those guys because they worked at it…pass rush was solid, underneath coverage was where they needed to be…the whole group has worked hard and you see it.”
Daryl Worley, James Bradberry and Colin Jones picked off Rodgers.
“The guys that deserves credit today, the defensive line played great but, the DB’s played awesome today,” Luke Kuechly said. “Those guys made the difference today.”
With Jones finally having his shot Rivera was impressed to see his production.
“All Colin has done was continue to wait for the opportunity. He continues to work hard in practice, he’s got good ball skills. He’s actually one of our fastest guys on the team and its good to see him get an opportunity to come out and produce for us,” Rivera said.
Trailing 14-10 going into halftime, Panthers tied the game on their first possession right after the break. In 3:26, they capped off a 7-play 73-yard drive with a 30-yard touchdown strike from Newton to Greg Olsen.
“We had to pick up the intensity going into the second half,” Newton said. “The moment wasn’t too big for certain people.”
Throughout the season Rivera has emphasized scoring on possessions heading into the half and coming right out of the half as those possessions can quickly turn around a game. He was happy to see the offense do it against the Packers to put them back on top.
They were able to ride with the momentum and Newton put on a clinic completing 20 of 31 of his passes for 242 yards and four touchdowns.
“He’s been on point,” Rivera said of Newton. “As we continue to go forward this is the type of energy that we need from our quarterback.”
While the Panthers were in control in the fourth quarter they allowed the Packers to dangle in the game. With a chance late in the fourth quarter to tie the game James Bradberry forced a fumble off a peanut punch which was recovered by Mike James. Panthers took possession with 1:50 remaining and were able to call kneels for the victory.
“I’m just happy that we winning but we know how to keep a game interesting,” Newton said. “We have to be more discipline offensively making sure the ball ends with us on the field.”
With that said, Olsen is content they’ve won two consecutive games against strong teams fighting for playoff spots.
“That’s two playoff type wins back-to-back here at home. Its a playoff environment, playoff caliber teams. These are hard games to win in December,” Olsen said. “These are the games you have to win if you want to give yourself a chance.”
Panthers will take on division foes Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9) in week 16 before closing out the regular season with another NFC South match up against the defending NFC Champions in the Atlanta Falcons. While the win is exciting, Ed Dickson was already looking ahead as soon as the Packers game ended.
“We have bigger goals on the table,” Dickson said. “I’m already looking on to Tampa Bay.”
By Gino Terrell