In one of the more memorable games in recent history the Panthers were victorious and walked away a solid playoff contender. It just doesn't get much better than that. On with the grades...
Cam Newton completed only half of his passes, had no touchdowns, and threw an interception. That statement alone sounds much worse than he actually was thanks to multiple drops by Smith and Lafell on third downs. Jonathan Stewart fumbled the ball late in the 4th quarter, but unlike the Seahawks game, the Panthers were able to recover it. Deangelo Williams' touchdown scamper was the highlight of the entire day for the offense and ultimately won the game for the Panthers. This was not an impressive day for the Panthers offense, especially when it comes to player execution. Still, they did enough in the end to win the game, if only by a single point. That counts for something.
Offensive Grade: C+
To say the Panthers defense did an excellent job Sunday would be a gross understatement. Together they put together a performance that will frighten Offensive Coordinators for the rest of the season. Frank Gore was held to under 100 yards and Colin Kaepernick looked pedestrian at best, completing only half of his passes and throwing a game losing interception. Credit Luke Kuechly for keeping Kaepernick confused on coverages the entire game. His adjustment calls during the game were a big contributor to the win.
Defensive Grade: A+
Graham Gano missed his first field goal of the season (unlucky number 13) and once again the special teams unit coughed up a fumble. However, Gano made his second field goal that put the Panthers up by one and Ginn had a key return late in the game. Overall, just like the offense, enough to win. (Thanks defense!)
Special Teams Grade: C
I am starting to happily eat my harsh words for Mike Shula earlier this season. Both Rivera and Shula are coaching well. The poor offensive performance was mainly due to player execution. If the Panthers receivers caught those third down passes, this game would have been put away earlier.
The Panthers coaches marched into Candlestick Park and out-coached the NFC Superbowl representative from last year. That is the bottom line.
Coaching Grade: A