With Cam Newton back in town, the Carolina Panthers stunned the NFC-leading Arizona Cardinals in a decisive 34-10 victory. Offensive efficiency and a stout defense provided the perfect recipe for Carolina to shock the league with the upset win.
Here are our studs and duds from Sunday’s game.
Stud: QBs Cam Newton and P.J. Walker
Newton is back. In his first two plays of the afternoon, he scored two consecutive two-yard touchdowns to put the Panthers up 14-0. Through the air and on the ground, Newton’s return to the team not only put plenty of points on the board, but also energized the team to levels we haven’t quite seen with Sam Darnold under center.
His electric presence—revealed in celebrations with Robby Anderson, P.J. Walker and even the fans—seemed to spark the offense into peak efficiency, as they fired on all cylinders on the way to their highest point total since 2019.
But while Newton stole the show in terms of flashy touchdown plays, it was Walker who held down the fort to create calculated and efficient offensive drives. Walker completed 76 percent of his passes for 167 yards and one interception, keeping the outing away from implosion.
Dud: RB Chuba Hubbard
When an injury forced Christian McCaffrey to miss time earlier in the season, Hubbard quickly established himself as a reliable starter for the Panthers. The rookie running back performed exceptionally well in his role there, too, leading to the widespread belief that he would become the clear second option upon McCaffrey’s return.
While Hubbard could have been considered the RB2 today, that role was far from clear. Ameer Abdullah totaled the same number of carries as Hubbard and even hauled in four receptions to Hubbard’s zero. To make things worse, Hubbard fumbled a handoff late in the game as Carolina tried to give McCaffrey a break.
The Panthers may be using more of a committee system of backups to relieve pressure off of McCaffrey, rather than the workhorse duo of him and Hubbard that many expected after the draft.
Stud: Panthers defensive line
For starters, defensive end Haason Reddick built upon an already strong first half of his 2021 campaign with a strip-sack on quarterback Colt McCoy. Morgan Fox—another signing from this offseason—promptly recovered the fumble, then took it three yards to the Arizona 15-yard line. The turnover set up the Panthers for the first of Newton’s touchdowns.
The entire defensive line played an amazing game, though. From a critical stop on a 4th & 1 in the first quarter to constant pressure on both Arizona quarterbacks, the front forced turnovers and limited points on the Cardinals’ side of the scoreboard.
By the end of the game, the unit totaled nine quarterback hits and four tackles for a loss while also helping hold running back James Conner and the entire Arizona rushing attack to just 65 yards.
Dud: Panthers tight ends
While the offense seemed to be clicking for the quarterbacks and receivers, the team’s tight ends were left out of the success. Ian Thomas didn’t even accrue a single target, while rookie Tommy Tremble caught his lone look for a three-yard gain.
The Panthers have recently struggled to involve their tight ends in the offense, and a victory like this with hardly any tight end usage might mean more of the same in the future.
Stud: RB Christian McCaffrey
The short version is that McCaffrey—on his own—totaled just eight fewer yards than the entire Cardinals offense. The long version is that the talented running back made a difference in both the rushing and receiving game, pacing the team in both categories with 95 rushing yards off 13 carries and 66 receiving yards off ten catches.
Aside from a brief injury scare that appeared to involve his right leg, McCaffrey stayed on the field with the offense centered around his versatile skill set.
Stud: WR Robby Anderson
Given the circumstances of Sunday’s win, it felt justified to throw in an extra stud. Anderson was in the middle of a disappointing 2021 season with Sam Darnold under center.
Now, though, with Walker and Newton taking turns, Anderson managed one of his better performances of the year, hauling in four catches for 37 yards and a touchdown. His reception total matched that of Moore, but was his second-highest on the season.
Walker’s established rapport with Anderson from their Temple days should, if he starts next week, allow the team to take pressure off Moore in the passing game. Regardless, the future looks bright for Anderson, especially given that Newton—the only other option for the Panthers at the starting quarterback position—tossed his touchdown catch.
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