After the Panthers selected Cam Newton with the 1st overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, expectations dramatically increased. His unprecedented rookie season did nothing to halt these expectations. Newton finished with over 4000 passing yards, 21 passing touchdowns, and over 700 rushing yards, with an amazing 14 rushing touchdowns. His 14 rushing touchdowns broke the single-season record for touchdowns by a QB. Despite his individual success, the Panthers missed out on a playoff spot, finishing with a 6-10 record.
It seems since Newton’s rookie season, the clock has been ticking for Ron Rivera to turn things around in Carolina. After another disappointing 7-9 season in 2012, Rivera went into this season officially on the hot seat. It seemed as though his days as the Panthers head coach were numbered. After the Panthers started the 2013 season 1-3, tension only grew around the Panthers organization.
It seems as though their 22-6 loss to the Arizona Cardinals may have marked the turning point for the Panthers season, and maybe even Ron Rivera’s job. Since then, the Panthers have tallied 5 consecutive wins, beating the Vikings, the Rams, the Buccaneers, the Falcons and the 49ers. The strength of these 5 teams is pretty sub-par for the most part, but their most recent win over the weekend against the 49ers put people on notice.
Despite a below average performance by Cam Newton, the Panthers dominated with great defense, shutting down Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers offense, winning a physical game 10-9. The explosiveKaepernick was held to just 91 passing yards, including an interception. Luke Kuechly led the way for the Panthers defense, with 11 tackles and 1 sack. The 49ers were just 2 of 13 on 3rd down conversions.Kuechly has been a shining star for the Panthers defense, and has been one of the best linebackers in the NFL that nobody seems to know about. He is the primary reason the Panthers were willing to trade JonBeason to the New York Giants earlier this season.
At 6-3, the Panthers sit one game back of the New Orleans Saints for the NFC South division lead, and currently hold the NFC’s first wild card spot over the 49ers, who are also 6-3. Despite beating lesser opponents 4 of the last 5 weeks, they will certainly have their chance to show their muscle in their upcoming Monday Night showdown when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will come to town. After this, the Panthers will finish their season with 2 of their final 4 games against the Saints. These two games may end up deciding the winner of the NFC South. One thing is for sure… the calls for Ron Rivera’s head have simmered down, and it appears his job is safe… for now.
By Dave Guberman