NFL: Panthers want to open it up

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Associated Press
CHARLOTTE — The Panthers escaped with their first victory of the season Sunday, now they’re looking to open up the offense again this week against Chicago.
This year’s Panthers pride themselves on being an aggressive, downfield passing team, one that goes after big chunks of yardage at a time. They readily admit the running game is secondary in their minds.
But that philosophy got thrown out the window after an unexpected rainstorm hit downtown Charlotte during the second quarter of Carolina’s 16-10 win over Jacksonville, dumping four inches of rain in a 35-minute span and flooding the playing field.
“It changed significantly,” offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said of the team’s game plan. “With the torrential downpour and with the field being wet it was about trying to go to some downhill runs … Shorter passes and screens work well there, too.”
The Panthers won, but that isn’t necessarily the blueprint they plan to use every week. This Sunday they’ll be looking to open up the offense when they travel to Chicago to face coach Ron Rivera’s old team, the Bears.
Quarterback Cam Newton threw for 422 and 432 yards, respectively, the first two weeks of the season against Arizona and Green Bay, but was limited to 158 yards passing by the Jaguars.
“Anytime with a very explosive offense like this we want to take chunks downfield,” said quarterback Cam Newton. “Due to the conditions we had, we were very limited with the deep routes (but) we did an excellent job with managing the game given what we had to deal with.
“We were depending a lot on our backs and our line to stick on their blocks.”
For the first time all season, the Panthers eclipsed 100 yards rushing, finishing with 107.
The Panthers were criticized for not running enough the first two weeks of the season, particularly in short yardage and goal line situations. But Rivera didn’t seem to care, especially since Newton was lighting it up in the passing game and the team had 52 first downs the first two weeks of the season.
On Sunday, Newton was clearly off the mark.
Even before the rains hit in the second quarter, he was throwing high and wide, clearly his most erratic performance of the season. He managed to get it together late in the game, going 3-for-3 for 31 yards including a 16-yard touchdown strike to tight end Greg Olsen to secure his first victory as a pro.
Rivera wrote that off to Newton being a rookie.
“He was at times maybe a little too aggressive but that’s what we are going to get,” Rivera said. “That’s what the young man is and that’s what our offense is. We are going to attack downfield.”
Except, of course, when it’s raining like cats and dogs.
“They were playing that old Panther ball … and that’ll get you fired,” wide receiver Steve Smith joked, taking a veiled shot at the conservative run-first game plan of former Carolina head coach John Fox.
Smith, who entered the game leading the NFL in receiving yards with 334, was held to 15 yards on two catches as passing the football more than 10 or 15 yards downfield became an adventure.
“We come out with a W, that’s what counts,” Smith said. “We tried to go down the field. And that was kind of impossible in the rain. So you kind of just keep playing and plugging away.”
Although Newton struggled with his accuracy throughout Sunday’s game coach Ron Rivera was ultimately impressed with the way he came through in the clutch, leading a five-play, 55-yard touchdown at the end of the game.
“Especially with these conditions to be able to control what we do offensively and handle the situations and circumstances is huge,” Rivera said. “The young man is developing and we are going to have days like this. Maybe it won’t be as bad but we most certainly will have days where we aren’t making the plays we want to make.”
Smith, for one, is anxious for things to return to normal.
“Now we can go back to throwing the football,” the receiver said with a wide smile.

NOTES: Rivera said he expects all 53 players on the roster will practice Wednesday including cornerback Chris Gamble, who left Sunday’s game with a mild concussion.