The Carolina Panthers have just a pair of wins through eight
games, but with rookie quarterback Cam Newton keeping them
competitive, they’re confident there will be better second-half
The Tennessee Titans have the same hopes as they sit at .500 at
the season’s midpoint.
Coming off a bye, the Panthers close out a three-game stretch at
home Sunday when they face a Titans team opening a road-heavy
portion of its schedule.
With Olindo Mare missing a 31-yard field goal with 26 seconds
left in a 24-21 loss to Minnesota on Oct. 30, the Panthers limped
into the bye week at 2-6 – far off the 10-win pace first-year coach
Ron Rivera said his team was capable of in training camp.
“To be 2-6 is not acceptable by any means, and it’s
disappointing,” Rivera said. “But what we can do, and what we have
the ability to do, is more important to our guys right now.”
Through eight games, Newton’s poise and athletic ability have
provided plenty of optimism for a franchise that finished last in
the league in points (196) and total offense (258.4 yards per game)
last season in going 2-14.
The No. 1 overall pick and Heisman Trophy winner is sixth in the
NFL with 2,393 passing yards and he’s thrown for 11 TDs – four
apiece to Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen – after setting a
career high with three against the Vikings.
Newton has also run for 319 yards and seven scores, helping
Carolina rank fifth in the league in offense with 415.1 yards per
“The biggest thing is Cam has changed our expectations,” Rivera
said. “We’ve gotten more than we expected from him at an earlier
time. And that’s great. That has helped us to develop the offense a
lot faster. As he continues to progress, this system will continue
While some Panthers feel the team has the talent to win out –
tackle Jordan Gross said the goal should be to finish with a
winning record – one of Carolina’s primary concerns should be
closing out games. They’ve blown second half leads in five of their
“It’s been like (the movie) Groundhog Day around here,” Olsen
As Carolina looks to get back on track before playing three
straight and five of seven outside Charlotte, the Titans (4-4) are
trying to rebound from a 1-2 homestand with the first of five
second-half road games.
Tennessee missed a great opportunity to keep pace with AFC
South-leading Houston (6-3) by getting outscored 17-0 in the second
half of Sunday’s 24-17 loss to Cincinnati. The Titans, though, are
still in the playoff hunt as every team in the conference has at
least two losses.
“Nobody is out of reach,” right guard Jake Scott said. “There’s
nobody running away with it. On the other side, there’s not that
many teams out of it completely. It’s going to be very interesting
in the AFC going down the next two months.”
It the Titans are going to make a second-half run, the offense
will likely have to step up. Tennessee, which managed just 95 yards
in the final 30 minutes against the Bengals, is 23rd in the league
in scoring (19.5 points per game) and 27th in total offense,
averaging 310.3 yards.
The biggest disappointment for coach Mike Munchak’s team has
been its NFL-worst running attack, which is averaging 70.0 yards.
Three-time Pro Bowler Chris Johnson is on pace to rush for 732
yards after going for a league-best 4,598 in his first three
The Panthers are yielding 133.3 yards per game on the ground –
sixth-most in the league – and are tied for the most rushing TDs
allowed with 11.
Carolina’s pass defense has also struggled, with opposing
quarterbacks averaging 8.35 yards per attempt – the second-highest
ratio allowed in the NFL.
Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is averaging 5.63 yards per
attempt during the 1-3 skid, yet his 2,014 yards are the
second-most he’s passed for through eight games in his career.
Hasselbeck was 3-1 as a starter against Carolina while with
Seattle, including a 34-14 victory in the 2006 NFC championship
This is the fourth meeting between these franchises, and first
since the Titans’ 20-7 home win Nov. 4, 2007.
The Titans posted a 37-17 victory in Carolina on Oct. 19, 2003,
in the first matchup between these teams since the Houston Oilers
relocated to Tennessee in 1997.