Carolina Panthers do victory dance on Washington Redskins 'homecoming'

jperson@charlotteobserver.comNovember 5, 2012 

— The Redskins brought in 150 former players for alumni weekend, which many of the Panthers took to mean they were the homecoming opponent Sunday.

The former Redskins and most of the 79,767 fans at FedEx Field came to see Cam vs. RG3 – the quarterback matchup between Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III, the past two Heisman Trophy winners.

But, many left early because of the Panthers’ defense.

Carolina limited Griffin’s big plays – sacking him four times and stopping him on a fourth down near the goal line to claim a 21-13 win and snap a five-game losing streak.

The Panthers (2-6) had not won since Sept. 16 and had lost their past four games by a total of 12 points. Washington (3-6) lost its third consecutive game and has dropped three in a row to the Panthers.

Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams said the pre-game hype surrounding the quarterbacks missed the mark.

“The media made it RG3 versus Cam Newton. What they failed to realize is Cam Newton nor RG3 play defense. That was the deciding factor in this game,” Williams said.

The plan was to contain Griffin and the Redskins’ zone-read package with defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, while taking away Griffin’s deep throws by playing the safeties deep. It worked.

Griffin was 23-of-39 for 215 yards and completed passes to nine receivers. But his longest completion went for 25 yards, and his longest run was 9 yards.

“The biggest thing we wanted to do was contain him. Keep him in position and also handle their option,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “But the one thing we didn’t want to do is give up a big run or a big play.

“For the most part, we were able to keep everything in front of us as far as the run game was concerned. And I thought our defensive backs played a really solid game.”

Newton completed 13 of 23 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for a score. Newton only had one completion longer than his 19-yard touchdown toss to Steve Smith. But it was a biggie – an 82-yarder to Armanti Edwards that was the longest completion in team history not resulting in a touchdown.

Edwards, a 2010 third-round pick from Appalachian State, had 24 yards of offense in his first two-plus seasons.

Two plays after Edwards’ catch, Newton went in on a 1-yard touchdown to give the Panthers a fourth-quarter 21-6 lead they couldn’t blow. The Panthers improved to 8-9 under Rivera in games in which they led or were tied in the fourth quarter.

After it was over, Newton met Griffin on the field and gave him his number.

“Basically, we are both two young quarterbacks in this league trying to get better, trying to lead our teams to victory,” said Griffin, the rookie from Baylor. “I told him I think that his team has a lot of talent and the possibilities are endless for them, and I feel the same way about our team.”

The Redskins converted as many fourth downs (3-of-5) as third downs (3-of-15). But it was a fourth-down stop by the Panthers defense that turned the game.

Washington, the league leader in fourth-down conversions, converted two to extend a drive late in the first half. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan decided to go for it again on fourth-and-goal from the 2 with 5:21 left before halftime.

Griffin rolled right and made a run for the pylon. But a wall of Panthers that included Johnson, safety Charles Godfrey and backup cornerback Josh Thomas cut him off, forcing him out of bounds for no gain.

The Redskins held the ball for 16 plays and more than 10 minutes, but came away with no points.

“We knew there were a lot of zone reads and when they needed a play they were going to him,” Godfrey said. “The (play) action was away. He rolled out to our side. We run to the ball and hit. That’s what we did.”

Taking over at the Panthers’ 2, Newton led a 12-play, 98-yard touchdown drive that tied for the second-longest in team history. Smith beat Josh Wilson on a fade route in the end zone to give the Panthers a 14-3 halftime lead.

“It was very big. It was a way for us to impose our will and just make a big impact,” Newton said. “It was right before the half. They had a lot of momentum because they converted a couple fourth downs. We were just in essence trying to get first downs to change the field position. We found a way, got completions, and got a touchdown in the end.”

Trailing by two scores for most of the second half, the Redskins moved away from their zone read to a more extensive passing attack. The Panthers’ defensive line answered by turning up the pressure, with Hardy, Johnson and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards combining for four sacks – all in the second half.

“That’s always good,” Johnson said of putting the Redskins in passing situations. “When we can do that, that’s when we have an edge.”

Hardy was among those fired up about the homecoming slight, which the Panthers read about in the programs in the locker room before the game.

“Their little pamphlet, they decided to make us homecoming,” Hardy said. “It was a little disrespectful as an organization to come in here. We’re an NFL team, too. And we showed them.”

Others brushed it off. Defensive captain Thomas Davis said the Panthers had plenty to play for.

“It was a little added motivation, not that we really needed it coming into this game 1-6. Either you’re going to come out and compete and you play, or you’re going to lay it down,” Davis said. “We don’t have any quitters on this team. We’re all about competing and we went out there and did that.”

And this time finished the deal.

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson

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