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Carolina Panthers: More practice time helps QB Cam Newton beat New England Patriots

By
The Sports Xchange
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) celebrates after throwing a 30-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. against the Washington Redskins in the first quarter at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland on December 19, 2016. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) celebrates after throwing a 30-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. against the Washington Redskins in the first quarter at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland on December 19, 2016. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Certainly, the offense benefited from quarterback Cam Newton's regular participation in practice in the week prior to the 33-30 victory at New England Sunday.

But that doesn't mean that the Carolina Panthers have altered their approach with Newton. They'll remain cautious, head coach Ron Rivera said Monday.

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"But we're going to be smart with him. We're going to continue with whatever our new normal is in terms of his weekly exercise," Rivera said. "But if we continue to have these types of weeks, I think he's going to continue to get his timing down."

Because of Newton's offseason shoulder surgery and then a training camp when his throwing was dramatically reduced, there were times that Carolina's preparation has been hindered.

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A full week of regular work at least solved some things as he completed 22 of 29 passes against New England.

"I feel like this was a breakthrough game for us offensively," Newton said after Sunday's game. "We're going to need more of that moving forward."

Rivera said last week's "three days of practice were as good as we've had" and that translated to game-day success.

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Still, Rivera doesn't see Newton as at full capacity yet. There are throws that he's missing, largely because of timing.

"He was still rusty," Rivera said. "He's still not where he needs to be."

That might be a good motivating tactic because Newton, at least publicly, came down hard on himself for some of the offense's sluggishness during the first three games.

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Against New England, the Panthers scored on six of their nine possessions. They might need a similar scoring rate to keep up with the Lions when the two 3-1 teams meet this week in Detroit.

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Linebacker Thomas Davis did much of the inspiring of his team from the sideline in the game against New England.

He was absent during many of the key situations, particularly when the Patriots were in obvious pass situations. But the main reason for Davis' limited play was a lingering rib injury. He played a season-low 37 snaps.

In some ways, that didn't matter, he said, because of depth that has developed on the defense.

"We believe in each other," Davis said.

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The Panthers made a concerted effort to involve the tight end more in the second full game without injured Greg Olsen.

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That worked out because Ed Dickson caught three balls for 62 yards. His ability to work in the middle of the field might have helped create some of the openings that developed for wideouts.

Rivera said Monday that the ability to involve Dickson in the offense provided something else for the Patriots to pay attention to.

"It started early," Rivera said of Newton looking for Dickson. "I think it opened up some things for other guys as well. That's part of it."

The Panthers also went with an alignment with two tight ends quite often, with Chris Manhertz on the field for 17 snaps.

REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS

--PASSING OFFENSE: A - The Panthers moved the ball through the air, particularly in clutch situations. QB Cam Newton looked smooth for the first time this season and WR Devin Funchess came through for critical catches and WR Kelvin Benjamin showed big-play capabilities. Newton passed for 316 yards.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus - The Panthers produced enough on the ground (140 yards) to make a difference, though 44 of those yards came from Newton. RB Jonathan Stewart picked up hard-earned yards, but RB Christian McCaffrey remains merely a threat in the rushing attack.

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--PASS DEFENSE: B - Despite giving up 307 passing yards to Patriots QB Tom Brady, the Panthers were largely up to the task. It would have been nice to pick off one of Brady's 45 passes, but the Panthers, despite some injuries in the secondary, hung in there. A consistent pass rush certainly helped the cause, with Brady sacked three times and under pressure plenty of other times.

--RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus - The Panthers discouraged the Patriots from rushing the ball a whole lot, though they did give up more than four yards an attempt. The front held its own for much of the game, so that allowed for an active afternoon for LB Luke Kuechly.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus - Graham Gano kicked a game-winning field goal from 48 yards out on the final play, so that was the most important aspect of the special-teams grade. That moved Gano to 10-for-10 on field goals this season, though he shanked an extra-point kick and that appeared as if it might be costly. Again, there wasn't much happening on kick returns, so that's something worth keeping in mind as the Panthers search for a way to spring one loose.

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--COACHING: A - The Panthers recovered well from their only loss of the season. The plan to get Newton more work in practices appears to have paid off. The Panthers looked comfortable playing with the lead. Carolina was penalized only once, compared to several costly infractions on the Patriots (including two on New England's defense during the game-winning drive).

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