|Surprise! Hot Carolina Panthers storm to tie for first in NFC South|
|23-16 win vs. Falcons is their third straight|
|Published Monday, October 12, 2020|
|PHOTO | CAROLINA PANTHERS|
|Panthers running back Mike Davis turned in a career-best performance Sunday against Atlanta with 149 yards from scrimmage and a receiving touchdown in Carolina's 23-16 win. The Panthers are tied for first in the NFC South heading into their game against Chicago at Bank of America Stadium.|
After opening the season with a pair of losses, the Panthers have reeled off three straight wins to earn a share of first place in the division. Their latest, Sunday’s 23-16 victory at Atlanta, stopped a five-game slide against the Falcons. For a team that generated no preseason buzz, the Panthers are suddenly in a good place five games into the campaign.
“It just shows that the noise on the outside doesn’t matter,” said quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who passed for 313 yards and a pair of scores on 27-of-37 accuracy. “Only thing that matters is what we discuss in our locker room and our facility. We can’t buy into what’s being said on the outside. As long as we come to work each day, we play for one another, everything else will fall into place.”
Said linebacker Shaq Thompson: “We’re not looking at that. We’re taking it one game at a time. Our mentality is 1-and-0 each and every week. We’re not worried about our record. We’re not worried about the division. We’re controlling what we can control and that’s us playing each and every week going 1-and-0.”
Part of the Panthers’ success is rooted in the next-man-up philosophy. With their lone nationally-recognizable player – running back Christian McCaffrey – still sidelined by a sprained ankle, Carolina is thriving with a team concept. It helps that the offseason acquisitions like Bridgewater, receiver Robby Anderson (8 catches, 113 yards) and rookie safety Jeremy Chinn (team-best 43 tackles) are making plays when needed.
“It's perceived as a game of superstars, but it's not,” coach Matt Rhule said. “It's all these guys doing their job and working really hard. It's also the coaching staff. It's also the support staff. It's also the people who set the video up, it’s everybody just doing their job and trying to do it better today than they did it yesterday. And that's always going to be kind of a corny answer but it's true, we're 3-0 or whatever 3-2 or 1-0 this week, whatever because we're improving.”
The Panthers are getting the most out of opportunities to win. Against Atlanta, it was a dominant first half that resulted in a 20-7 lead at the break and punctuated in the fourth quarter by Juston Burris’ end zone interception to kill a potential game-tying drive. The offense finished the job with a game-clinching 76-yard drive that resulted in Joey Slye’s field goal and a 23-13 advantage.
“We want to win, and we want to win bad,” said running back Mike Davis, who put together a career day with 149 scrimmage yards (89 rushing) and nine receptions, including a touchdown. “Not only do we want to win, we want to be the most physical team out there. It ain’t about just winning. We don’t care about records or whatever it is, we worry about ourselves. As long as we can go out there and play physical and beat up on guys, the score will take care of itself.”
The Panthers are also taking care of business on the defensive side. After allowing 34 points to Las Vegas and 31 to Tampa Bay to open the season, Carolina allowed 53 combined among the Los Angeles Chargers, Arizona and Atlanta.
“I think the difference is we’re actually playing as a team,” cornerback Rasul Douglas said. “After every week, win or loss, Coach Rhule comes in there and he challenges us saying we have to tackle better or we’re not covering as good or we’re not finishing. Every week he challenges us, and we just try to live up to that challenge.”
To keep it going, Carolina will have to focus on that philosophy starting Sunday against Chicago, a physical team coming off a 20-19 win against Tampa Bay. For a team that wasn’t expected to contend for anything in 2020, the new culture is taking root.
“We have to start over again next week and try to be a better team next Sunday than we were this Sunday,” Rhule said. “I give that credit to the players. They've bought into the practice, they’ve brought into the work ethic, the preparation and I think it's showing up on game day.”
Said Bridgewater: “I think it’s huge and it says a lot about this team how you look out there and guys are having fun, they’re communicating, they’re high-fiving, they’re picking guys up off the field. That’s a testament to that locker room.”
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