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Week 11's best statistics

Posted Nov 23, 2015

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has not always enjoyed a smooth ride during his first five years in the National Football League.

He has blown hot and cold on the field and has often been surly and immature in press conferences. And when that was the case, myself and other reporters ripped him for it and held him accountable.

With that in mind, it’s only right to sing his praises as Cam is shining on and off the field in Carolina and is doing a wonderful thing, in my opinion. And I’m not talking about his end zone dancing, either!

I think Cam Newton is turning youngsters in Charlotte into Panthers fans for life with his post-touchdown celebrations. It has become like a child-friendly version of the Lambeau Leap after every Carolina touchdown that Newton has a hand in.

He takes the football from the receiver in question – without checking if they want to keep it for their own personal trophy cabinets, I might add – and then begins to scour the crowd, which is increasingly featuring young fans in the first few rows. Newton then picks out a fan and hands them an incredible souvenir in the form of a game ball.

There is something pure and fun about the celebration and I hope the shady merchandise sellers don’t ruin it for everyone and let’s hope those footballs don’t turn up on Ebay. You may think that is cynical but I’ve seen that done in the past.

I’ve walked through hotel lobbies at the Super Bowl and seen children as young as six or seven years of age rush up to legends such as John Elway and Jerry Rice and ask for a football to be signed. They then take the ball and run back to a shady-looking character hiding behind a giant plant pot, who immediately puts said ball into a bag and sends the child back into the fray. Merchandise is big business and is one reason why players who do sign things often like to personalise them so they cannot be passed on.

Anyway, I digress. The point is that the Panthers are on a roll and their leader has become a role model for many young sports fans across America – and Cam Newton is having a blast. His Panthers are 10-0 on the season and in the midst of a genuine Super Bowl run and rather than looking like the stage is too big for him, Newton simply looks delighted to be on the stage in the first place.

Cam is relishing being in the national spotlight and playing on a team that has it firing on all cylinders right now. I’m not sure if Cam is getting fined for every football that makes its way into the crowd – I suspect he probably is but the NFL won’t admit to that PR can of worms – but I can see a lot more footballs being passed along to young fans on this form.

And while I still don’t think the Panthers go undefeated on the season, I do feel they are the class of the NFC and now have a genuine shot to go all the way. Passing out footballs and making new fans along the way – good for them and good for Cam!

Now onto this week’s numbers…

255 and 2… Marshawn Lynch has long been the emotional leader of the Seattle Seahawks and his physical style has often provided a spark in games when his team has needed it the most. But his team didn’t need him on Sunday evening during a 29-13 win over the San Francisco 49ers and that has to raise questions about Lynch’s long-term future in Seattle given that he is now xx years of age and does not come cheap in terms of salary. Seattle turned to undrafted rookie free agent Thomas Rawls against the Niners and he had the kind of day that Lynch has never enjoyed in Seattle, carrying 30 times for 209 yards and one touchdown. Rawls – who also shone earlier in what has become an injury-plagued year for Lynch – also added 46 receiving yards and another score for a 255-yard, two-touchdown day at the office. Lynch is older and considerably more expensive but he has an emotional hold over this team that so few have in the Seahawks locker room. But the emergence of Rawls has given the Seahawks something to think about in terms of their running back position when this season is done and dusted.

97 and 107… There comes a time when a player has been in the league for a certain number of years and you simply have to accept that they are what they are and some leopards are incapable of changing their spots. I feel that way about Mark Sanchez, who started at quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles during their embarrassing 45-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. Sanchez came into the game having been responsible for 95 touchdowns and 104 turnovers during his seven-year NFL career. It was more of the same as he subbed for the injured Nick Foles in Week 11, throwing two touchdowns and three interceptions – including a pick six – in a damaging loss. Sanchez still has trouble identifying the danger areas on a defense and continually turns the football over, negating what talent he does bring to the table when he starts in the NFL.

5-118-2… There is not a better receiver in the NFL right now than DeAndre Hopkins of the Houston Texans. Did you see the way he left Darrelle Revis trailing in his wake on his 61-yard touchdown catch during Houston’s 24-17 win over the New York Jets? He set that play up with yet another ridiculous one-handed catch on the sidelines and ended the day with 5 catches for 118 yards and 2 scores. As for the Jets, they are slumping and have lost four of their last five. And, incredibly, there are problems are on defense and, in particular, in a secondary that was supposed to offer so much hope following Revis’ off-season return from the New England Patriots. And don’t look now but the previously-terrible Texans are now in a first place tie for the AFC South lead with a 5-5 record.

Monday Musings…

  • The Indianapolis Colts had to dig deep for their 24-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons and deserve credit for doing so on the road. But I cannot help but think that the slumping Falcons threw this one away. Matt Ryan threw 3 costly interceptions with the most damaging coming in the shadow of his own goal-posts that was returned for a touchdown by Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.
  • What a brutal season for the Baltimore Ravens. They had already lost Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith to serious injuries and now you can add quarterback Joe Flacco (torn knee ligaments) and running back Justin Forsett (broken arm). It’s just been a miserable season for a team that promised so much heading into 2015.
  • Going back to Cam Newton and the Panthers for a moment, do you remember those days not so long ago when we worried that all Carolina had on offense was their quarterback and tight end Greg Olsen. Not right now – Cam threw 5 touchdown passes to five different receivers on Sunday and Jonathan Stewart rushed for more than 100 yards.
  • It was never going to be confused with dynamic or breath-taking but that was a better offensive display from the Green Bay Packers in their 30-13 win over the Minnesota Vikings. The return to form of Eddie Lacy was a key, as was the re-emergence of James Jones at wide receiver. It also didn’t hurt that the Packers defense came up with 6 sacks in a dominant display.
  • Tony Romo’s numbers were not that amazing on Sunday (18 of 28 for 227 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions) but you could see the belief he instils in the Dallas Cowboys as they recorded a 24-14 win over Miami. Romo’s playmaking style was summed up in the first half when he appeared trapped in his own end zone for a safety. Instead, he switched the ball to his left and hand and threw a key completion downfield – with his wrong hand – to running back Darren McFadden.
  • Brock Osweiler was not spectacular in his first NFL start but he was more than good enough and helped the Denver Broncos to a 17-15 win over the Chicago Bears. Most importantly, Osweiler threw 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. Avoiding those kind of costly mistakes is an upgrade on Peyton Manning and could yet lead to an awkward conversation in Denver when Peyton returns to action.
  • The Kansas City Chiefs have now won four in a row and are working behind a similar recipe for success – careful but productive play at quarterback from Alex Smith, a strong running game and a stout defense. That formula could yet carry the Chiefs into the post-season.
  • The Oakland Raiders are in a mini slump after losing in Detroit on Sunday night but I still think the long-term arrow is pointing up for this team. They are young and have not handled their success well in recent weeks, but there is still considerable talent on this roster.
  • I don’t think Blaine Gabbert is the answer at quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and I think this position gets addressed during the 2016 NFL Draft or free agency signing period. But this I do believe – I believe that Colin Kaepernick has taken his last snap for the 49ers after being placed on season-ending injured reserve.
  • I have yet to watch Sunday night’s game between the Arizona Cardinals and Cincinnati Bengals in detail, but I did watch Carson Palmer’s late heroics and it got me thinking that he might be in a race with Cam Newton for the NFL MVP award this season. That was a quality win against a quality opponent for the Cardinals and who wouldn’t love to watch a Cardinals-Panthers NFC Championship Game on this form?

Final Thought

It was not that long ago that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were embarrassing themselves in front of their own fans – it was this season, in case you have forgotten already. And we wondered if Lovie Smith was on borrowed time in Florida. Well, the Bucs have become one of the feel-good stories of this 2015 campaign and are right in the thick of the NFC playoff race with a 5-5 record. Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston was the star of the show on Sunday as he threw 5 touchdown passes to five different receivers, but he was not alone on what is a growing team. Doug Martin is back to his best and rushed for 235 yards on 27 carries, the big-bodied receiving pair of Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans both caught touchdowns and the defense came to play, forcing 4 Philadelphia turnovers. I’m not about to make any playoff guarantees for these Bucs but I do feel they are heading in the right direction. I like Winston’s poise and obvious talent and I like the fact that he now has his playmakers back around him after some injury problems. Tampa Bay are certainly relevant again and few would have predicted that after their season-opening 42-14 defeat to the Tennessee Titans.

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