Cam Newton leads Panthers' reborn run game to win

Denizens of Charlotte were treated to a throwback performance from Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers (7-3) in their 45-21 beatdown of the Miami Dolphins (4-5) in Week 10. Is Carolina's rejuvenated running game a sign of things to come? Here's what we learned:

  1. The Panthers are cooking with the same recipe that took them to the Super Bowl. After weeks of experimenting with new philosophies and emphasizing certain talent, Carolina has reverted to its most successful formula: Let Cam run. Sell Cam running. Reap the benefits.

For the second straight week, the Panthers mauled the opposition on the ground, this time led by Jonathan Stewart, who was previously floundering at a career-low 2.9 YPC clip. The 30-year-old found his footing against Miami, gashing the flopping Fins for a season-high 110 yards in a throwback performance that inspired his teammates. As Cam put it, "Guys were just sensing that he was kind of down and low, so for him to come out ... man, it's big for not only him, but for everybody else. For him, getting confidence in himself. And for the people who never doubted his talents ... for him to come out today was a big deal for us."

Sprung by deft blocking from flourishing fill-in Ed Dickson and fellow tailback Christian McCaffrey, Carolina's run game, with a season-best 294 yards, paced a balanced effort from an offense which compiled a franchise-record 548 total yards on Monday night, an offense that has thrived since Kelvin Benjamin's exodus. (McCaffrey, in an understated role, scored two touchdowns and put Kiko Alonso on skates twice.) Ron Rivera has given up on the Smother-Cam-in-Bubble-Wrap Strategy -- a preseason pipe dream, in retrospect -- and instead is emphasizing run-pass options for his still dangerous QB. To no one's surprise, defenses continue to bite, allowing for plays like Cam's game-wrecking 69-yard scamper. According to him, Carolina's record evening is just the beginning.

"I feel as if we're still scratching the surface with our potential and things that we can do as a whole in this offense," Newton told reporters. "We still left a lot of plays out there. We'll get them corrected. ... That's just some of the certain things that we're capable of."

  1. Against a competent Dolphins secondary, Newton had his best game through the air (254 yards, 4 TD) since Benjamin left for Buffalo. Cam's replacement receivers, Russell Shepard and Curtis Samuel, did little to help their quarterback, dropping by my count at least four easy balls. But Newton found his security blankets downfield in his taller targets, Dickson and Devin Funchess, the latter of whom, in the eyes of interim GM Marty Hurney, made Benjamin expendable. So far, 'twas a good assessment. Funchess reeled in two scores (one bubble-screen scamper, one back-shoulder haul) and 92 yards. Dickson played Greg Olsen's role to perfection, tallying a score of his own. (Dare I sarcastically suggest: Kelvin who?)
  1. Miami's three-loss march through national television is mercifully over. Blessed be the fruit. Regardless of who's been under center, the Dolphins have failed to develop an identity or rhythm on offense more than halfway through the season, a trend that continued on Monday night. Cutler fell into his same psychological trappings, throwing aimless heaves off his back foot and ill-advised balls into traffic. The quarterback's interception to Luke Kuechly with less than a minute go in the first half, in the shadow of his own goal post no less, was, yes, an athletic play from the All-Pro linebacker and a questionable play call, but also just poor decision-making that tripled Miami's halftime deficit. On defense, the return of safety T.J. McDonald did nothing to inspire a listless Dolphins defense that was dominated at the point of attack from the first snap. The 4-5 Fins have a shot in the mediocre AFC, but, if we're being honest, they could easily be 0-9 or 1-8.
  1. Those with short memories probably crowned the New Orleans Saints as the class of the NFC after their demolition of the Bills in Buffalo on Sunday. News flash to the sheeple: The Panthers are just a half game behind the Saints ... for the lead in the NFC South. That's how crowded and complicated this NFC playoff race is shaping up to be. Atlanta, at 5-4, is still in contention, but the conference's two hottest ground games reside in Charlotte and New Orleans. A Week 13 super showdown in the Superdome looms.
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