Week 15 of the NFL season saw the Carolina Panthers travel to Houston. The game represented a clash of two organizations on the rise.
This team had always been a tease to their fans. Always seemingly ready for a breakthrough into the playoffs, the team consistently has disappointed. Not this year. In 2011, they took advantage of the collapse of the Indianapolis Colts to dominate their division. Not only have the qualified for the playoffs, they’ve clinched the division.
The Carolina Panthers are experiencing a rebirth under the leadership of new Head Coach Ron Rivera and the play of stud rookie quarterback Cam Newton. The team only had a 4-9 record coming into the game, but they had led in all but one game. Rivera has the formerly sad sack Panthers on the cusp of doing big things. The match up with the division winning Panthers represented another chance to improve…and the Panthers did just that winning in Houston by a 28-13 score.
The Panthers came out fired up. On only the second offensive play for Houston, the Panthers forced a fumble by Arian Foster and recovered it on Houston’s 26 yard line. Four plays after that, Cam Newton hit Steve Smith for a 26 yard touchdown. The Texans would drive for a field goal before the period was out, but kicker Neil Rackers would miss it giving the Panthers a 7-0 lead at the end of the quarter.
The second quarter saw the Panthers go on a five minute drive that culminated with a 9 yard touchdown throw from Newton to tight end Jeremy Shockey. The teams then traded punts until six minutes were left in the quarter. At that point, Houston rookie quarterback T.J. Yates threw an interception giving Carolina the ball at midfield. The Panthers drove down the field and ran a rarely seen trick play to score – the old college fumbleroskie play. The offense ran an option play to the right with Cam Newton appearing to carry the ball. The only problem was the ball was actually handed off to the tight end who went the other direction to run scott-free into the end zone. This put the Panthers up 21-0 at the half.
The third quarter finally saw a switch in momentum. The Texans started shutting down the Panthers offense while their offense started driving the ball effectively. They had to settle for two field goals, however, which would ultimately doom them in the game. At the end of the third quarter, the score was 21-6.
The fourth quarter saw the game come alive. Houston drove from their own 32 yard line to score a touchdown on a 1 yard run by Arian Foster and narrow the score to 21-13. The young Panthers have shown a tendency to collapse under such pressure, but not in this game. Instead, they immediately drove down the field to score a touchdown on a 24 yard run by DeAngelo Williams. After throwing an interception on the next drive, the Panthers would then run out the final 7 minutes of the quarter to win the game 28-13. If the Texan don’t start getting their game back, they could really disappoint the people that already bought Texans tickets for the upcoming playoff game.
As good a season as the Texans have had, the Panthers exposed why this team will not go far in the playoffs. The loss of their starting and backup quarterbacks has left them with a low round rookie starting their games. He has played far better than anyone could have hoped for, but that will not last. You need quality quarterback play in the playoffs to win and Yates is simply to inexperienced. Still, things look up for the future.
As for the Panthers, this game represented another solid step forward. Not only did they beat a good team, but they stood up and were counted in the fourth quarter when things hung in the balance. Carolina may only be 5-9 at the moment, but the team’s fans have to be very excited about the future. Look for the Panthers to make a run for the playoffs as early as next season.