Monday, November 28, 2011

Cam Newton, Panthers Escape Indianapolis Embarrassment

Rookie sensation Cam Newton did everything in his power to make sure the Indianapolis Colts didn't earn their first win of the season on Sunday.  Newton completed 20 of 27 passes for 208 yards and ran for his 10th rushing touchdown on the season as the Carolina Panthers handed Indianpolis their 11th consecutive loss, 27-19.

Carolina iced the game when starting free safety Sherrod Martin snagged his third interception of the season on an acrobatic catch in the back of the endzone with only 35 seconds remaining.

Martin made an incredible catch, dragging his right foot to remain inbounds just inches away from the endline.  The interception halted a furious Indianapolis comeback attempt with no timeouts remaining in the final moments of the contest.  While the Panthers never fell behind in the game, the pesky Colts refused to go away, coming within inches of possibly tying the game until Curtis Painter tossed his second interception of the day.

DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Cam Newton had a huge day for Carolina on the ground.  The trio rushed for a combined 192 yards and three touchdowns.  The Panthers' highly-touted running game took advantage of a porous Indianapolis defense that allows an average of 145.6 rushing yards per game.  Williams accounted for two of Carolina's three touchdowns, the second of which was a two yard plunge, catapulting Carolina to a 24-13 lead.

The Colts responded with a fantastic catch-and-run by perennial Pro Bowler Reggie Wayne on a 56 yard touchdown, giving the hometown fans in Lucas Oil Stadium a glimmer of hope.  The 2-point conversion attempt failed, and Carolina returned the favor with a 76 yard kickoff return by Kealoha Pilares deep into Indianpolis territory.  Despite poor field position, the Colts' much-maligned defense held their ground and forced a 41 yard field goal by Olindo Mare to give their offense one last chance to pull out a seemingly impossible victory.

Indianapolis put on possibly their best defensive effort of the season, despite their inept offense led by Curtis Painter.  The Colts' inability to sustain drives led to Carolina grabbing a quick lead and never looking back.  A paltry 1 for 9 on third down, the Colts struggled mightily in the first half with only 10:28 time of possession.  Carolina attempted to take a halftime lead, but Indianapolis defensive end Jamaal Anderson had other plans, blocking a 45 yard field goal attempt, giving the Colts the momentum advantage going into the locker room.  The Colts were unable to capitalize, going three and out to open the third quarter. Carolina responded with a 64 yard touchdown drive to take a 17-10 lead and never surrendering their advantage again.

With their third victory of the season, Carolina proved they haven't quit on the season despite a poor record and deflated playoff hopes.  The Panthers snapped a 12-game road losing streak dating back to the beginning of the 2010 season.  Cam Newton and his teammates eclipsed last season's win total of two, and look primed to play the role of spoiler down the stretch in the NFC playoff picture.  Newton has now thrown for over 3000 yards, by far the most for any rookie through his first 11 games.  Sophomore wide receiver Brandon LaFell took advantage of his first start of the season, grabbing five receptions for 46 yard, filling in the for the banged-up Legedu Naanee.  Jeremy Shockey had three receptions, extending his streak of consecutive games with a catch to 131.

Running back Donald Brown proved to be a bright spot for Indianpolis, rushing for 80 yards on 14 carries, tallying a touchdown that gave the Colts their first offensive touchdown in the month of November.  Curtis Painter's struggles continued, but it appears the counsel of Peyton Manning on the sideline has helped the oft-criticized signal caller direct the offense. Painter made some nice throws running the two minute drill, but still leaves plenty to be desired as a starter in the NFL.  Reggie Wayne grabbed his first touchdown reception  since the first game of the season.

With their 11th loss of the season, Indianapolis is off to their worst start of a season since 1986, when the Colts opened the year 0-13 before finishing with a 3-13 record.  The loss all but ensures Indy will wind up with the No. 1 pick in next year's draft, and all eyes still remain on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck to be the top pick. 

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