Reporter Joseph Person grades the Carolina Panthers’ performance against the Jets

jperson@charlotteobserver.comDecember 15, 2013 

B QUARTERBACK : Cam Newton missed DeAngelo Williams on a screen pass early in the game, but hit him on a screen in the second quarter that Williams turned into a 72-yard touchdown catch-and-run. Newton threw for 273 yards and again showed his toughness by coming back from a toe injury without missing a snap.

A RUNNING BACKS : Williams said he gets a better feel for games the more touches he gets, and he proved that Sunday with Jonathan Stewart out with a sprained knee. Williams accounted for 168 yards – 81 rushing and 87 receiving – and scored on the longest reception of his career. Williams also had several nice blocks. Fullback Mike Tolbert scored on a 1-yard touchdown run.

B- RECEIVERS : Tight end Greg Olsen had a couple of nice catches in tight coverage, one a third-down conversion on a laser from Newton. Olsen finished with five catches for 88 yards, while Brandon LaFell (61 receiving yards) and Steve Smith (20 yards) each had three receptions. LaFell had a great downfield block on Williams’ touchdown.

B OFFENSIVE LINE : The Panthers rolled up 392 yards and the line gave Newton a pretty good pocket. A week after Newton was sacked five times at New Orleans, the Jets only managed two sacks on him. Left guard Travelle Wharton had the first block to spring Williams on the screen pass. Center Ryan Kalil and Wharton had holding calls on consecutive plays in the third quarter.

B DEFENSIVE LINE : End Greg Hardy showed good explosiveness and got after rookie quarterback Geno Smith all game. Hardy had four quarterback pressures and one of the Panthers’ four sacks. End Charles Johnson had two tackles, one for loss. Rookie defensive tackle Kawann Short had a nice tackle on Smith when he tried to escape from the pocket.

B LINEBACKERS : Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly led all tacklers with nine stops. Kuechly was also effective in the blitz package, with a sack and a pressure, and looked better in coverage. Outside linebacker Thomas Davis added four tackles, while Chase Blackburn chipped in with three

A DEFENSIVE BACKS : Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said Santonio Holmes’ comments – the Jets wideout called the Panthers’ secondary the defense’s “weakest link” – fired him up. It showed. The diminutive Munnerlyn was a force in the blitz (two sacks, two hurries) and broke Mike Minter’s franchise record with his fifth career interception return for a touchdown. Rookie corner Melvin White picked up two more penalties, although one was declined.

B SPECIAL TEAMS : Backup linebacker Jason Williams turned momentum when he blocked Ryan Quigley’s punt early in the fourth quarter. Graham Gano made all three of his field goal attempts, and had touchbacks on six of his seven kickoffs. Brad Nortman averaged 46 yards on two punts. Rookie Kenjon Barner bobbled a kick return, and a Josh Thomas hold negated a nice punt return by Ted Ginn Jr.

B COACHING : Riverboat Ron Rivera went for another fourth-and-short instead of taking a field goal, but came up empty when Newton was pressured badly. A week after waiting until the second half to break out the blitz against the Saints, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott came after Smith early. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula had several nice play-action and sleight-of-hand plays, including a Statue of Liberty call and the screen pass to Williams.

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