Where the Panthers Stand Going into Bye Week

The Panthers’ opportunistic defense comes away with 4 interceptions and a fumble recovery to seal a road victory in Tampa Bay. Josh Norman continues to showcase why he’s one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL this season with 2 interceptions, one returned to the house for 6 points.

Wow, what can you say about Josh Norman? In four games, he has 4 interceptions, 2 defensive TDs, and a forced fumble plus its recovery. Norman came into the game tied for fourth in the NFL in passes defensed and tied for first in interceptions and defensive touchdowns. He will likely lead the NFL in those last two categories going into the Panthers’ Week 5 bye.

Just how good are the 4-0 Panthers? I want to say very good, but honestly I am not quite sure. To be clear, they are not bad by any means. However, the Panthers have faced Blake Bortles, Ryan Mallett, Luke McCown, and Jameis Winston, all of which are undeniably lower-tier quarterbacks. The Panthers will have to face much better QBs later in the season and they need to tighten some screws before then.

First off, Cam is playing superbly. He is evolving into an elite quarterback that can carry his team to victory single-handedly. When your leading receiver in a win is Brenton Bersin, it’s hard not to give credit where credit is due and Cam certainly deserves it. This past week, Cam has even been in the MVP discussion as he continues to find ways to put up points with what little weapons the team provides him. Although it’s early, I would currently put him up as one of the forerunners, but still behind Brady and Rodgers

Nonetheless, Winston almost handed the Panthers a victory by giving them excellent field position off of easy turnovers. The offense didn’t need to do much. Cam threw two nice TDs to Ted Ginn, but other than that, there was not much to be excited about. Ed Dickson came up with a ridiculously lucky offensive fumble recovery for a touchdown, reminding me of Steve Smith’s touchdown against Carolina last year off his teammate’s botched catch.

The Panthers cannot rely on the opponent giving away 5 turnovers and creating a miraculous play to beat teams. The offense needs to improve in the red zone and not continue to settle for field goals. Philly Brown needs to step up, as does Devin Funchess. Over the past two games the duo has had 2 catches for 17 yards. Someone needs to fill the void of the sidelined receivers, Benjamin and Cotchery.

Don’t get me wrong, I am ecstatic about the 4-0 start as any lifelong fan would be. However, I am the type of fan that doesn’t settle for pretty good and expects perfection. Not counting the Ed Dickson touchdown, the Panthers had less offensive drives make it to the end zone than the Winston-lead Bucs. The Panthers’ red zone efficiency was 40%, meaning they settled for field goals more often than not. With Cam Newton, Greg Olsen, Devin Funchess, and Mike Tolbert all being dangerous near the goal line, offensive coordinator Mike Shula needs to draw up some plays to utilize the tools he has at his disposal.

Although I feel my bickering is justified as there are certainly flaws in the Panthers’ play, Carolina has won their last 8 regular season games, the longest active streak in the NFL. The Panthers have an intangible understanding of how to pull out gritty wins. They don’t blow up the stat sheet, but they play smart, situational football. The Panthers’ winning streak will be put to the test as they go to play the Seahawks on October 18th in Seattle, notoriously one of the hardest places to play for the away team over the past three seasons.

The Panthers have two weeks to rest up before facing a string of games against top-notch quarterbacks in Russell Wilson, Sam Bradford, Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers. Hopefully Luke Kuechly will be back from his concussion injury, as well as Jerricho Cotchery from his high ankle sprain, because the Panthers are going to need to play their best football to keep up with the also undefeated Falcons in the NFC South playoff race.