Panthers QB Newton: We need to get Stewart more involved – USA TODAY
SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ NFL experts analyze who’s going to win the biggest matchups of the week. USA TODAY Sports
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Panthers have long been known for their ability to run the football.
Just not this year.
Had it not been for quarterback Cam Newton, who had 71 yards on 11 carries, the Panthers would have been completely one dimensional on offense in a 28-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night. Carolina running backs Jonathan Stewart, Christian McCaffrey and Fozzy Whittaker were limited to 1 yard on 13 carries.
Even wide receiver Curtis Samuel, who had one carry for 8 yards on a reverse, outgained Carolina’s running backs.
“We have a lot of things to look at,” said coach Ron Rivera. “We really do.”
It’s unusual for a Panthers team that has rushed for more yards than any team in the NFL since the start of the 2008 season.
But the holes simply aren’t there.
At one point Stewart was gang-tackled for a 3-yard loss in the backfield by seven Eagles defenders. The normally mild-mannered Stewart got up screaming at the Carolina bench in frustration.
There was nowhere to run.
The franchise’s all-time leading rusher had eight carries for minus-4 yards Thursday and is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry this season. He hasn’t scored a touchdown running the ball.
“We have to find ways to get him going,” Newton said. “That’s part of that lethargic-ness I was mentioning. A team that is heavily favored to run the ball, that’s who we are. That’s Panthers football. We have to find a way to get that running game going and get Stew involved.”
EAGLES LBS COMMAND RESPECT: Nigel Bradham likes the hype the Eagles’ front seven gets around the league, but wonders why the linebackers aren’t talked about more. Maybe a 28-23 victory at Carolina that included three interceptions of Newton will remedy that.
“We feel like we’re the most consistent,” said Bradham, who finished with 10 tackles. “We’re just continuing to grind and try to gain some respect in this league. Even in our division, we don’t get much respect. How can they just talk about the front four, and forget the linebackers?”
Outside linebacker Mychal Kendricks led the Eagles with 15 tackles.
WENTZ DOESN’T MIND CONTACT: Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz threw for three touchdowns on Thursday night, and nearly sneaked in for a rushing score to boot. Carolina’s pass rush swarmed Wentz and sent him to the turf repeatedly in the process. Fans might be angry about that, but it didn’t seem to bother Wentz in the least.
“You don’t think about it, honesty,” said Wentz, who was 16 for 30 for 222 yards for a 110.7 passer rating, his second straight game in triple digits. “You just look at the (tablet) to see if it was a protection issue, and fix it. You keep playing ball. It’s football, and you’re going to get hit.”
TOP TARGETS: After tossing three touchdowns to receiver Devin Funchess in the last two games, Newton most often threw in the direction of McCaffrey and receiver Kelvin Benjamin against the Eagles. Newton targeted McCaffrey 14 times, resulting in a career-high 10 receptions for 56 yards and a 1-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Benjamin had nine catches for 99 yards on 13 targets.
Newton attempted a season-high 52 passes, but completed just 28 for 239 yards and was intercepted three times. He finished with a 48.5 passer rating, his second lowest of the season dating to his 43.7 rating against New Orleans on Sept. 24. In his previous two games, Newton had completed 77.4 percent of his passes for 671 yards, six touchdowns and one interception.
RIVERA’S DECISION: After battling current Kansas City Chief Harrison Butker for the Panthers kicking job in the preseason, Graham Gano improved to 15 of 16 on field goals this year, hitting all three of his attempts against the Eagles.
That’s why it seemed strange that with the scored tied at 10 on the final play of the first half, coach Ron Rivera passed up a 58-yard field goal attempt and went for it instead. Rivera said he didn’t want to put Gano out there to kick into a crosswind, even though Eagles kicker Jake Elliott had made a 50-yarder at that same end of the field earlier in the game.
Gano hit a 39-yard field goal in the first quarter and connected from 20 and 46 yards in the third. His only miss this season came at Detroit Oct. 8 when he missed from 55.
PEPPERS’ MILESTONE: Julius Peppers is still strong at 37. Peppers needed one sack to become the fifth player to reach 150 since they became an official statistic in 1982. The 37-year-old Peppers didn’t waste any time reaching it, sacking Wentz on the first drive of the game and forcing a fumble.
AP stringers Eli Pacheco and Justin Parker contributed to this report.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.