Well, isn’t this a fresh feeling for the Carolina Panthers?
On Sunday, victory was finally seized—as the team pushed back on the visiting New Orleans Saints and on what would have been an embarrassing 10-game losing streak. The 22-14 win gave the Panthers their first win of the campaign and a much needed sense of relief for the time being.
So, how and why did they get there? And what can we take away from their triumph?
Let’s break it down.
Big plays lead to wins
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The Panthers defense finally caused some real havoc, chalking up their first takeaway in their last six games. That came about nine minutes in—when linebacker Frankie Luvu stripped Saints running back Alvin Kamara, and defensive end Marquis Haynes Sr. picked up the loose ball for a 44-yard touchdown return.
And, hey, the unit liked that one so much that they did it two more times—thanks to cornerback Jaycee Horn. Horn created two interceptions in the fourth quarter, assisting defensive tackle Derrick Brown with a tip on one and reeling in a ball of his own to put the cherry on top of the afternoon.
Much has been made of Carolina’s offensive woes leading to losses—and rightfully so. But their defense’s lack of game-altering moments has also contributed to the mess.
Today was an example of what happens when they find those very moments, with or without an effective complement on the other side of the ball.
Laviska Shenault Jr. has a place
AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman
Shenault Jr.’s place on this team was in question the very moment Carolina traded for him. Would offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo use him as a wide receiver, a running back, a wide receiver/running back hybrid, a returner or all of the above?
Well, we got a taste of that answer.
The former second-round pick, in his very first piece of action this season, recorded a team-high 90 receiving yards on just two catches. The bulk of that output came on a 67-yard dash to the end zone off a quick swing pass in the fourth quarter.
He also looked promising on special teams. His pair of kickoff returns resulted in a total of 54 yards, with his second actually serving as a 36-yard setup for that eventual touchdown.
After the game, head coach Matt Rhule told reporters they’ll now up Shenault Jr.’s workload as he continues to progress as a member of the offense. And while we don’t know how much they’ll up it by, we know why they will—because he’s a home run waiting to happen with the ball in his hands.
Offense still struggles under Baker Mayfield
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Even in victory, the Panthers offense looked overwhelmed. That, in no small part, was a product of Mayfield’s play.
The former No. 1 overall struggled yet again, missing on a handful of passes early and failing to construct any type of rhythm throughout. He finished having completed 12 of his 25 throws for 170 yards and the Shenault Jr. score.
Running back Christian McCaffrey was the group’s saving grace, as he paced the Panthers with a game-high 108 rushing yards on 25 carries. But Carolina can’t expect McCaffrey to shoulder the offense week in and week out like that.
Mayfield needs to find a flow and needs to find it soon.