Panthers Report Card: Week 12 vs. Raiders
The Carolina Panthers made a miracle comeback but then fell short against a hot Oakland Raiders team. In a tale of two halves, here’s how they graded out:
A tale of two halves has been a common adage this season for Cam Newton and really the entire Carolina Panthers squad and Sunday was no different. Newton stumbled his way through the first half with a lone rushing score as just about the only highlight. But then came half number two, when the reigning MVP emerged and brought his team back from a 17-point deficit with a pair of touchdown passes and steady drives. Newton finished the day with 246 yards through the air and a pair of scores – and one on the ground – along with his pick-six in the first half. Newton brought him team back and took the lead but ultimately as a whole they faltered late and couldn’t overcome the Raiders.
After a string of poor performances on the ground over the last few weeks, Jonathan Stewart burst back onto the scene proving just how important his success is to this Panthers offense. Coming back out after a subpar first half, Stewart lit it up in the second scoring twice to aid in the comeback and ripping off big run after big run. He finished the day with 96 yards on 17 carries to average 5.6 yards per touch on the day.
WIDE RECEIVER & TIGHT END
Newton’s anemic first half meant the same for this crew as their opportunities were limited. But half number two saw them make a fair share of big plays but also commit more than few errors that ultimately led to the Panthers’ loss. The biggest day came from Ted Ginn Jr. who led the way with four catches for 115 yards with 88 of those coming on a long touchdown pass and catch in the third quarter. Top weapons Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen only saw 11 combined targets and both saw success and struggles. Benjamin made a big 44-yard catch to put Carolina up in the fourth while Olsen contributed with a few big drive extending catches but also let one – albeit on a somewhat high throw – hit off his hands that would have put the Panthers in field goal range in the game’s final drive.
The makeshift offensive line of the Panthers got hit even harder on Sunday with left guard Andrew Norwell ending the game as the only starter still intact at his normal spot. An injury to fill-in right tackle Daryl Williams forced right guard Trai Turner to slide over and forced utility lineman Chris Scott to move fill Turner’s role. Then an injury to backup center Gino Gradkowski – already filling in for Ryan Kalil – forced practice squad call-up Tyler Larsen into center duties. With all things considered, the group only allowed two sacks on the day but still allowed Newton to be hit eight times including a strip sack from Khalil Mack on the final play of the game.
The hot streak that the Panthers defensive line had been riding since the bye week seemed to have cooled off a bit on Sunday against the Raiders’ high flying offense. Through the first half the unit was unable to do much against an elite Oakland offensive line that gave Derek Carr more than enough time to get in a rhythm. They stepped up in the second half though doing more to help out the secondary and quiet the Raiders for much of the half. Without their top sacker, Mario Addison, the group logged just one of the team’s two sacks, with it coming from Charles Johnson, and only had five QB hits.
Minus Luke Kuechly, it was up to A.J. Klein to step up in his place and overall he did a solid job. Klein logged five tackles and a sack and helped shut down the Raiders ground game to just 55 total yards. In coverage though, Klein was exposed time and time again and wasn’t receiving nearly enough help giving up multiple big plays to Oakland’s Michael Crabtree. Thomas Davis had another big day as per usual with seven tackles and a pass defensed and curiously, Shaq Thompson was rarely used in this one.
Overall it was another solid outing for the Panthers’ secondary with rookie corners James Bradberry and Daryl Worley gaining more experience and looking better each week. Worley led the team in tackles with 12 on the day pitched in six and had another big game in coverage. The biggest issue in this group came from the safeties that appeared to be out of position on a number of the game’s biggest plays. On multiple occasions, Kurt Coleman and Tre Boston were supposed to be giving Klein safety help over the top and each time it resulted in a big play like on a deep 49-yard catch down the middle to Crabtree late in the second half and on the Raiders’ go-ahead touchdown. The two did do their part in the tackle category with 11 for Coleman and eight for Boston, but played too big of a role in Carr’s 315 passing yards on the day.
It was another quality special teams day overall for the Panthers specialists, Graham Gano and Michael Palardy, aside from one rather important gaffe. Palardy, in his second NFL appearance, had another great outing booting six punts for an average of 46.7 yards including one that went 55 and another that landed inside the 20-yard line. Gano was only used for extra points in this one with one of those looming large as a blocked kick led to the Panthers trying to overcompensate and thus fail on two subsequent two-point conversion tries that would have been huge in how the game wound up playing out.