Carolina Panthers (5-8) vs Washington Redskins (7-4-1)
8:30pm ET Monday on ESPN
The topline reads Panthers vs Redskins, but the real draw tonight is Cam Newton vs Josh Norman. Last year the two All Pros joined forces to lead the Panthers to the Super Bowl, but rather than come back for another crack at the title, Norman decamped for Washington and a payday. Now they’ll be on opposite sides of the line of scrimmage for the first time ever – whoever wins this battle likely wins the game.
The Carolina Panthers defense stepped up big against Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers last week, racking up 3 interceptions, and 5 sacks, one for a safety that would be the finishing touch on a 28-16 victory. Carolina jumped out to 23-0 lead late in the first half, with Jonathan Stewart running into the end zone from the 1-yard line, and then the Panthers immediately parlayed an interception into a 58-yard drive for another touchdown, this one on a 6-yard pass from Cam Newton to Devin Funchess. The Panthers were able to overcome the continued absence of linebacker Luke Kuechly, and the continuing struggles of Newton, who completed just 10 of 27 for 160 yards, 1 TD and an interception. Kicker Graham Gano was the unsung hero of the game, hitting on 4 of 4 field goals attempts, including 3 of 40+ yards. In one season the Panthers have gone from 15-1 with a +12 point-per-game differential to 5-8 with a -2 differential thanks to a system-wide collapse. The defense was expected to take a big hit with the loss of Josh Norman, but Kuechly’s concussion, and the drop-off in sacks from Kawann Short have made things a lot worse, though the team does lead the league in sacks with 39. As for Newton – who knows? It’s been said before, but it’s looking more and more like last year was the aberration.
The Washington Redskins kept their faint playoff dreams alive with a big win over the Eagles last week, 27-22, as Kirk Cousin, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson picked apart the Philadelphia secondary. Trailing 13-7 in the 3rd quarter, Cousins aired one out to the ex-Eagle Jackson, who turned around to make a basket catch and then sauntered the final 25 yards for an 80-yard touchdown to take the lead. Later in the quarter, Cousins would find Garcon with a beautiful floater over the shoulder into the back-left corner of the end zone. Minutes later, after the Eagles went 3-and-out, Cousins was picked off by Leodis McKelvin, who ran it back 29 yards for a touchdown and a 21-19 Philly lead. With 3 minutes to play, however, Cousins engineered a 77-yard drive capped by Chris Thompson’s 25-yard TD run for the win. Cousins has shown that last season wasn’t a fluke, but the defense hasn’t held up their end of the bargain, despite the addition of Josh Norman and the continued emergence of Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy. Part of their problem is they’ve been flagged for the fourth-most yards in the league, at 867 – that’s more than eight trips down the field – it adds up.
The Panthers desperately need for Kuechly to come back from the league’s concussion protocol if they want to have a chance to contain Cousins, Garcon and Jackson, but even then, it probably won’t be enough.
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