Quick Read: Panthers' win over Green Bay shows there is a changing of the guard in NFC
A star quarterback picking apart the defense. Big plays in the passing game. And an effective rushing game to keep the opponent honest while providing manageable down-and-distance situations.
The game featured exactly what we’ve come to expect from Green Bay’s offense through the years – except the Packers weren’t doing it until it was too late Sunday.
Carolina’s 37-29 victory Sunday represented a changing of the guard in the NFC. Green Bay (6-2) can no longer be considered the cream of the conference following its second straight loss. The Panthers (8-0) now hold a two-game lead over the Packers, Minnesota (6-2) and Arizona (6-2) for the conference’s No. 1 playoff seed along with a head-to-head tiebreaker edge over Green Bay if needed to formulate postseason positioning.
Although the Panthers entered as 2½-point home underdog, Carolina’s win wasn’t nearly as surprising as how it unfolded.
The Panthers were so dominant offensively in taking a 23-point fourth-quarter lead that three Packers defensive players got into a sideline argument. Defensive lineman B.J. Raji shoved safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix after the latter began jawing at outside linebacker Julius Peppers.
The Packers exhibited more fight during that brouhaha than on the field to that point.
Carolina raced to a 27-7 lead with their largest first-half scoring output since 2009. The Panthers scored on five of their seven first-half possessions and would have opened an even bigger advantage had kicker Graham Gano not missed a 43-yard field goal.
Cam Newton threw for three touchdowns and ran for another. Johnathan Stewart wasn’t dominating in the running game, but he did keep Green Bay off balance with 66 yards on 20 carries. The offensive line also gave Newton plenty of time to throw by not allowing a sack.
None of these positive qualities were exhibited by the Packers until midway through the fourth quarter.
Just like in last Sunday’s 29-10 loss to Denver, Aaron Rodgers could get little going in the passing game before a 53-yard scoring throw to Randall Cobb early in the third quarter. Rodgers’ receivers continued to struggle getting separation when matched against a quality secondary.
The offensive line had too many breakdowns with Rodgers getting sacked five times. Center Corey Linsley had a particularly rough afternoon handling shotgun snaps and providing A-gap protection with left guard Josh Sitton.
The running game foundered once again with Eddie Lacy benched for a long stretch after losing his third fumble of the season. Lacy then left the game in the fourth quarter with a groin injury and didn’t return. He finished with 10 yards on five carries.
Green Bay’s offense the past few seasons under Rodgers could have overcome all the long third downs the Packers were challenged to convert Sunday. Not this year.
And yet the Packers still almost rallied for an improbable comeback. Those hopes were dashed when Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis intercepted a Rodgers pass on fourth-and-goal from the Carolina four-yard line.
So which are the real Packers? Will they carry the late momentum from Sunday’s loss into the second half of the season or was all the preseason Super Bowl hype unjustified?
We’ll learn more in two weeks when Green Bay plays at Minnesota (6-2) in a game that could very well be for first place in the NFC North. This much, though, is already known: Home-field advantage throughout the postseason is now Carolina’s to lose.