Bryan Strickland Senior Writer
Charlotte, NC October 18, 2013 – Safety Mike Mitchell won’t soon forget how he felt after the Panthers’ loss at Arizona in Week 5, a game in which the Panthers squandered an opportunity to build on the momentum of a blowout victory in their previous game.
Mitchell certainly doesn’t want to be reminded Sunday, when the Panthers again try to follow up a lopsided victory, this time with a home game against the St. Louis Rams.
“We know what this win can do for us,” Mitchell said. “We have to be tired of winning one, losing one. Let’s win two.
“Got to have it.”
If the Panthers are to put together a winning streak as well as reach .500 for the first time this season, here are some things that have to happen.
CAM’S KEY: This week, we’ll let a team captain spell out one of the keys to victory, simple and plain.
“The key will be just being consistent,” quarterback Cam Newton said. “That’s the overall challenge to everyone.”
It’s something that Newton mentions most weeks (“I know I sound like a broken record,” he said), but it’s something that bears repeating until it happens. In victories by a combined score of 73-10, the Panthers have shown their capabilities. On the other hand, they’ve totaled just 36 points in their three losses.
It felt like the Panthers turned a corner in last Sunday’s 35-10 victory at Minnesota, but they have to play like that for more than one week at a time.
“It’s all about confidence,” Newton said. “When you get a person playing with confidence, who knows what they’re capable of? When I was at Auburn, we played with confidence. We’re beginning to play with confidence now, and look what you see.”
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CAM’S KEY, PART II: Newton was on top of his game against the Vikings, in large part because the Panthers’ reworked offensive line got the job done in front of him. That will need to be the case again against a Rams defense that features the NFC sack leader.
Former North Carolina standout Robert Quinn has six sacks, and he’s bookended at defensive end by proven pass rusher Chris Long.
The Panthers have lost both their starting guards to season-ending injuries but have successfully replaced them with a pair of players in Travelle Wharton and Chris Scott, who weren’t on the roster at the beginning of training camp. Byron Bell has shown continuous improvement at right guard, veteran Jordan Gross is enjoying an outstanding season, and center Ryan Kalil is back to being a rock in the middle.
AVOID BIG PLAYS: After losing consecutive games by a combined score of 66-18, the Rams have turned things around and won back-to-back games by a combined score of 72-33.
“They do look different,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “If you watch the last two they played, you see how explosive they can be, how on offense and defense they can make big plays. We can’t allow big plays on either side of the ball.”
The Rams were actually outgained by 204 yards last week at Houston but still rolled 38-13 thanks in large part to a pair of defensive touchdowns. They also scored on defense the week before in a 34-20 victory over Jacksonville but also made big plays on offense, with each of their top three receivers catching a pass that covered at least 25 yards.
ABSORB LITTLE PLAYS: Conversely, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is as good as anybody at working the ball underneath. The last time the teams met back in 2010, Bradford completed 25-of-32 passes for just 191 yards, but it got the job done in a 20-10 victory.
“That was a very frustrating day,” cornerback
Captain Munnerlyn said. “They didn’t do anything deep; they just dinked and dunked, dinked and dunked, and that’s how they go into the end zone.”
Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel completed 32-of-44 passes for 241 yards against the Panthers last week but was intercepted twice and only got his offense into the red zone once. Three years ago, Bradford and the Rams reached the red zone five times.
“It can be frustrating, but you’ve got to have somebody step up and make a play,” Munnerlyn said. “And this is a totally different defense now.”