Two essential Truths about unbeaten teams are that not everything is going to work perfectly, so sometimes you’re going to have to buckle it on *strong* and WIN the game, dammit! Secondly, clutch field goal kicking is going to figure in there significantly.
For the vast majority of Monday nights 29-26 victory, in front of an above-average crowd that endured steady and sometimes heavy rain (bless their hearts), the vaunted Panther defense made Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck look exceptionally human. The Colts had only 40 yards passing after three quarters, and he leads the league with 12 INTs after Carolina picked three, including the gamer in overtime. After Cam Newton’s TD pass (16-of-35, 248 yds., 2nd TD- Philly Brown) to Greg Olsen, the 23-6 lead looked like a kickin’, even though Gano missed the PAT.
Luck’s final yardage was 231, but overtime belonged to the kickers. The Colts Adam Viniteri, showed his chops with another clutch kick in his career-long string, thumping a 50-yarder, then Gano answered with one. After Kuechly, who dropped an interception possibility at the end of regulation, grabbed one in OT– Ted Ginn also dropped a possible TD in admittedly lousy conditions– Gano took care of business with a strong 52-yarder.
If the game looked kind of ‘Done Deal’ after the Olsen TD, its going to help Charlotte (and fans) in the future, because it became a game where that ‘unbeaten’ could have come off their resume. When they beat Seattle two weeks ago, that certainly charged expectations up, Seattle being a constant pain over the last couple meetings. Of COURSE there’s a whooooole lot of ‘Can they beat Green Bay/Aaron Rodgers?’ now, and thats a legitimate question. Should it make any difference that Rodgers had an ugly night vs. Denver and might have a chip on his shoulder when he gets to Bank of America stadium? In a word,’No’, because stopping his usual surgery on offense will test whats been the teams strength–its D– and you *HAVE* to nullify his big plays to win in all cases.
Moral victories don’t count, and no denying Green Bay is a premier team. It will be a massive game, and there’s every reason for a full stadium till the end, which is, or should be, a standard for this level of event. The Panthers haven’t been ‘Lucky’ yet in getting to 7-0— even without Charles Johnson (knee) and Kuechly (out three games, concussion protocols), the defense has been flexible with personnel, AJ Kline and Shaq Thompson stepped up, and opportunistic– two of ace cornerback Josh Norman’s 4 picks were returned for TDs. While TV analyst John Gruden continued to sound pessimistic about having Newton run as frequently as he has this year, his 41 looked good, and his 3rd down conversion rate has helped Carolina’s running game all season.
The Hornets have picked up their game with a 2nd win, after stumbling out of the starting game 0-3. Last night they rode (Less Big?) Al Jefferson’s 15-18 shooting for 31 points to bury the Dallas Mavs 108-94. Much has been made of Al being 25 pounds lighter this season, but it was an excellent team scoring effort, which was essentially the Hornets ‘must fix’ problem from last year. Marvin Williams-17, Kemba Walker-14, Cody Zeller-11– and with ALL due respect for Jeremy Lamb’s 16 off the bench— Coach Caldwell can continue blending process on where points come from.
Frank Kaminsky hasn’t been overwhelming yet, and losing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (MKG) to a shoulder injury at end of pre-season are adjustments to continue. Caldwell, who is dealing with many new and clearly talented parts very successfully, feels getting roles set is a priority, even after a 7-1 preseason that included a pair of victories in China.