In the end, Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers left no doubt about who the superior team was in Sunday’s 31-24 NFC Divisional Playoff win at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Seattle may have been the two-time defending NFC champs, but Carolina wasted no time dispelling any possibilities of an upset.
Before you could dip a wing into some blue cheese it was 14-0. One offensive touchdown and a Luke Kuechly pick six later and you felt like you were witnessing the birth of a dynasty. One game isn’t a Super Bowl make. However, Newton’s career needed a signature win.
The way his team manhandled the two-time defending NFC Conference champion Seahawks, and had Russell Wilson scrambling for dear life and throwing picks like he was throwing dollars at a strip joint, proved that Cam is the better $100 million African-American QB this season.
(Photo Credit: USA Today)
It was truly a tale of two halves though. Carolina bolted out to a 31-0 lead and then in typical fashion, Wilson threw three TD passes after intermission on some miraculous plays and led Seattle to 24 second half points. Unfortunately, a 31-point lead in the NFL is as good as gold.
With all due respect to Wilson’s attempt to become the first salary-cap era QB to make three-straight Super Bowls, the NFL narrative all season has circled around Cam and his charisma and potency and leadership.
Wilson was looking to build on a legacy that is already loaded with accolades and a ring. Seattle fans and Wilson believers, myself included, gave Seattle a puncher’s chance mainly due to their experience and the way they were clicking on all cylinders as the season ended.
Cam and the Panthers put that argument to rest early on. The Panthers defense flexed their superiority also. The pass rush was official and the early blitz took Wilson out of his rhythm and kind of left the Hawks' sidelines in a state of shock.
This was a year of firsts for Cam, from his 15-win season to his TD and efficiency stats. When Jonathan Stewart returned from a three-game injury absence to spark it with a 59-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, it marked the first time a running back has scored a rushing touchdown against Seattle since November of 2014.
Most significantly, it was the first time Cam Newton took the field as a certain NFL MVP and the favorite to lead his team to a Super Bowl title. The doubts are gone. The criticisms are waning. The perceived flaws in his game are nonexistent.
(Photo Credit: USA Today)
Before Cam took his first snap, the TV cameras flashed on him and he said a little prayer. Right after that, Stewart -- who’s no speedster -- set the tone for the day.
It’s also the first time I have seen Stewart run that far and fleet-footed. He hit that hole like Tony Dorsett.
Another first occurred on what I consider the play of the game. The Panthers were driving for their first TD after Stewart’s run when they fumbled the ball near the goal line. It bounced about five times past a slew of usually observant and opportunistic Seattle defenders and into the hands of a Carolina player.
If Seattle could have secured that turnover it may have been a different ball game because it was inevitable that Wilson would gather himself and make a game of it. Instead, Cam got it back and handed it to Stewart, who finished off a 4-yard TD run.
The final first was the 15-play drive that made the score 21-0, It was the first time Carolina had a drive that consumed that much clock all season.
Those series of plays were the shutdown proof that Cam is truly working with a higher power this season. To have your prayers answered instantaneously like that must be empowering.
By the time they recovered and figured out how to move the ball on Carolina it was too late. Seattle was actually an onsides kick away from getting a shot at completing a historic comeback, but the first-half deficiencies and two ill-advised picks by Wilson, sealed their fate.
The curly-haired QB King had become another victim of the Carolina Cam Express, which keeps rolling into next weekend’s NFC Championship game against Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and the Arizona Cardinals with a Super Bowl or bust motto.
At this point, any less would be a total flop.