By Danny Cox
When the 2013 season began, the Carolina Panthers were once again in a division that had both the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. Those are two teams that have dominated the NFC South for years, and no one can forget about the upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers either.
As things got underway, the Panthers suffered two early losses to the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills. A Week 3 demolition of the New York Giants (38-0) made people think that Cam Newton and the Panthers had something going.
That was, until a 22-6 loss in Week 4 to the Arizona Cardinals brought them crashing back down to Earth and reality. It was thought that the victory over the Giants was a fluke, and this would be yet another season down the drain.
And that was when things took a turn...
Over the next four games, the Panthers scored over 30 points each outing while none of their opponents scored over 15.
- Defeated the Minnesota Vikings 35-10
- Defeated the St. Louis Rams 30-15
- Defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-13
- Defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-10
After that, the win streak continued with a close victory over the San Francisco 49ers followed by victories over the Patriots, Dolphins and Buccaneers. The Panthers were heading to New Orleans with an eight-game win streak and a game that could end up deciding the NFC South.
Carolina was brought back to Earth yet again with a 31-13 loss to the Saints, and many figured they would still get a playoff spot, but not a division title.
Well, the NFL can be a mysterious beast and such was the case this year.
Carolina won their final three games, including a rematch over New Orleans, and with help from the Rams, the Panthers were NFC South champions. They also received the second overall seed in the NFC and a first-round playoff bye.
Quarterback Cam Newton showed that he is no fluke as he threw for close to 3,400 yards and 24 touchdowns while only throwing 13 interceptions. Newton also had 585 rushing yards and ran for six touchdowns.
That's more rushing yardage than a lot of teams' primary running backs had all year.
Jonathan Stewart missed most of the season due to injuries and that hindered the Panthers from taking full advantage of his teaming up with DeAngelo Williams in the backfield.
Leading the team in receiving was tight end Greg Olsen and he was followed by veteran wide receiver Steve Smith. One place that the Panthers need to improve is in their wide receiving corps.
Smith is not getting any younger and the others on the team have not lived up to the second wide receiver spot. Players such as Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon did not step things up when Smith was out with injuries either.
Free agency or the NFL Draft will have to bring in a wide receiver or two for Newton to have better targets.
Defensively, there is nothing for the Carolina Panthers to be ashamed of. They finished the season with the sixth overall passing defense and second overall rushing defense. This is a huge reason that the Panthers had such a good final three-fourths of the season.
At times, their offense would not bring all they needed to, and it would be up to the defense to bail them out. Luckily, players such as linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis came alive along with Captain Munnerlyn, Greg Hardy and Quintin Mikell to keep the win streaks alive.
Carolina has a lot of promise and they have a lot of young talent that can, and will, take them far in the coming years. If other teams like Atlanta can heal up and avoid injuries, the NFC South could be the most competitive division in pro football.
For more Charlotte news and updates, visit Charlotte Central.
Danny Cox knows a little something about the NFL, whether it means letting you know what penalty will come from the flag just thrown on the field or quickly spouting off who the Chicago Bears drafted in the first round of the 1987 draft (Jim Harbaugh). He plans on bringing you the best news, previews, recaps, and anything else that may come along with the exciting world of the National Football League. Danny is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.
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