Panthers weather the storm
After a torrential downpour drowned Carolina on Sunday, the sun broke through the clouds just in time for the Panthers.
With 6:44 left in the Panthers’ final quarter against Jacksonville, quarterback Cam Newton engineered a five-play, 55-yard scoring drive to help give Carolina a 16-10 lead. Newton connected with tight end Greg Olsen for a 16-yard touchdown play, and the rookie quarterback found his favorite target again for the ensuing two-point conversion.
The score at the 4:20 mark proved decisive in the game, and the Panthers earned their first win in the 2011 season. The victory is the first for head coach Ron Rivera, and for Newton.
"It's great to have my first win, but truthfully it's about those guys in the room," Rivera said. "Those guys have been through a lot, and I'm just really happy for them. This is a group of men who have wanted something good to happen for a long time, and they got it."
Getting that “good” result wasn’t easy.
“It wasn’t a pretty win, but the last part counts right?” Newton said.
Despite completing 13-of-26 passes for just 80 yards in the game’s first three quarters, Newton was perfect on the decisive, fourth-quarter scoring drive. Completing passes to Jonathan Stewart and Steve Smith, he also rushed for seven yards before the touchdown strike.
"As a competitor, each drive you try to be motivated to say, ‘All right, let's go get some points,'” Newton said. “But that was a time when everybody was like, ‘Whatever we have to do, we're going to do it.'"
Newton finished the game passing 18-of-34 for 158 yards and a touchdown, and rushed for 27 yards. Newton’s top target, Olsen, was targeted 10 times, and he caught seven passes for 57 yards.
The Panthers’ finish was a contrast to their offensive output in the game’s early-going. In the opening quarter, Newton missed receivers and danced to avoid pressure down after down. Still, the Panthers moved the chains, in part on Newton’s rushes and short runs from the Carolina backfield. The home team’s first two drives ended with punts after they stalled just outside the Red Zone.
Carolina only posted points when defensive end Greg Hardy tripped up Jacksonville rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert for a safety. Panther punter Jason Baker set up the safety when he pinned the Jaguars on their own 10-yard line.
The Panthers scored again with a 38-yard field goal by Olindo Mare to open the second quarter.
Then, along came the rain, and washed the scoring out.
A torrential downpour flooded Bank of America Stadium and a river of water poured from the seats onto the field. Players splashed with each step and sent sliding waves along the playing field with every tackle.
“That’s the hardest rainstorm I’ve ever played in — I don’t know how it could be any harder,” said Olsen. “It was tough, but we just had to adjust. It was hard to throw the ball outside the numbers, but guys did a good job of adjusting and found a way to win in the end.”
In the rain, however, it seemed Jacksonville did the better job adjusting.
As showers started, Gabbert led the Jaguars on a three-point scoring drive that went 45 yards in 12 plays to narrow the Panthers lead to 5-3.
When the heavy rain came the Jaguars fared better. With under a minute left in the opening half, Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones Drew gashed the Panthers defense twice - first for a 25-yard gain, then for a 39-yard slip-slide the following play. Gabbert ended the drive and the half with a 36-yard pass to Mike Thomas.
At halftime, Jacksonville led 10-5.
“Those were some cheap points at the end of the first half, but our defense responded with a great second half, and we were able to score enough points to make it work,” said Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross.
Rain slowed and stopped midway through the third quarter, and the Panthers were quick to prove they weathered the storm. On the opposite side of the field, the jaguars were water-logged.
Jacksonville punter Matt Burke fumbled snap on a play that started at midfield, and the Panthers recovered. Seven plays later Mare kicked a 32-yard field goal to conclude the 24-yard march and put the Panthers in striking distance.
With 4:20 left in the game, they struck. After the Panthers' Armanti Edwards returned a Matt Burke punt 14 yards, Newton began the scoring march at the Carolina 45.
The Panthers defense stopped a Jacksonville march in the game’s final minute to secure the win.
“It’s a team win on a tough day. From the weather and the ebbs and flows of the game, it was fun to get this W,” Gross said.
Carolina (1-2) next travels to Chicago (1-2).
The Associated Press contributed to this story.