Panthers even record at 2-2 with win over Arizona

Carolina took advantage in the red zone to win at Bank of America Stadium

Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) passes the ball during an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Brian Westerholt)

The Carolina Panthers won their second straight game to even their record at 2-2 on the season.

Following the 31-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, the Panthers pulled back to .500 for the first time since they were 5-5 following Week 11 of last season.

Last week, Carolina’s defense stepped up, giving its best performance in more than a year to defeat the Chargers. On Sunday, the offense did its part. The 31 points matched the highest scoring output by the Panthers in 14 games.

“I don’t even think of it as turning it around,” coach Matt Rhule said of the two-game win streak. “I just think it’s our guys getting better and better. The key is to just be a process guy. Keep trying to get better. Don’t overreact.”

Three thoughts

1. Christian Who? The Panthers have won two straight since All Pro running back Christian McCaffrey went down with a high ankle sprain. Halfway through the minimum of the four-to-six games he’s expected to miss, the Panthers are doing just fine without him. Mike Davis rushed for 84 yards and scored a touchdown, the first by a Panthers running back other than McCaffrey since Oct. 6 of last year.

2. The Panthers finally got to play in front of a home crowd. Thanks to a loosening of pandemic restrictions in North Carolina, Bank of America Stadium was able to allow in fans up to 7% of capacity. That meant about 5,000 fans were in attendance.

“It was really fun to be out there with fans,” Rhule said. “That was different and a lot more fun. It was a completely different vibe. You could hear them, and you could feel the energy. I know the statement, ‘Only 5,000,’ but I thought it was 5,000 loud and strong.”

3. Rhule set the tone on the Panthers’ first drive, choosing to go for it on fourth-and-2 at the Arizona 41. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater ran around end for six yards to get the first down and continue a drive that ended in a touchdown. Bridgewater ran in the opposite direction of the offensive line’s push, crossing up the Cardinals’ defense, although Rhule said that was the result of a mistake, not design.

“There was a miscommunication with the receiver,” Rhule said. “He went the wrong way. Teddy found a way to make it happen. Great players are way more important than great coaches. They figure it out.”

Number to Know

— After struggling in the red zone earlier this season, the Panthers came away with touchdowns on their first four trips inside the 20 to build an early lead on the Cardinals.

They Said It

“We’ve got to keep trying to get better and better. If this is the high point of the season, we won’t have a very good season.”

— Panthers coach Matt Rhule

Player of the Game

Curtis Samuel, Panthers receiver — His stats don’t jump off the page. Samuel lost three yards on two rushes and caught three passes for 51 yards, but Rhule said he was the key contributor.

“The player, for me, on the day on offense was Curtis Samuel,” he said. “Huge, huge, huge drive-extending plays that we really needed.”

All three of his catches went for first downs on scoring drives, two of the three coming on third down plays.

Critical thinking

Bridgewater had an impressive game, passing for 276 yards and two scores with 26-of-37 accuracy. He did have an interception in the second quarter, however. That’s his fourth giveaway already this season, doubling his total from last year when he played in nine games for the Saints.