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Panthers coming together on offense

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Just a few weeks ago, the Carolina Panthers looked like they would build this season around defense.


Now the offense has put up some notable numbers and the Panthers are looking even more well-rounded. They go into an open week on the schedule with a 7-3 record.

"We just wanted to come out and impose our will," quarterback Cam Newton said after the Panthers set a franchise record with 548 total yards in Monday night's 45-21 victory over the visiting Miami Dolphins.

Among those yards, 294 came on the ground. That was just five yards away from the single-game franchise rushing record. Plus, the Panthers have churned out 200-plus rushing yards in consecutive games for the first time ever.

"It was great," said running back Jonathan Stewart, who gained a season-high 110 yards on the ground. "That's what we practice for every week. Every week we expect it (to go smooth)."

The Panthers looked multi-dimensional and that's what might have pleased head coach Ron Rivera the most.

"It was a really good mix early on," Rivera said. "Mixing in the run and pass, the play-action, stuff like that. Again, the threat of Cam Newton's ability to run the football opened up some things."

Newton continues to dazzle with his legs, this time going on a 69-yard jaunt that set up a third-quarter touchdown. He had led the team in rushing in the four previous games, but Monday night his 95 rushing yards were second to Stewart's output.

Still, Newton continues to add an element to the offense that many teams don't have and it allows the Panthers to click in various situations. Plus, he made a habit of finding wide receiver Devin Funchess with key throws for the second game in a row since Funchess was dubbed the team's No. 1 receiver after the trade of Kelvin Benjamin.

Now it might be that the Panthers could be getting greedy on offense.

"I feel like we're still just scratching the surface with our potential and things that we can do as a whole in this offense," Newton said. "We still left a lot of plays out there."

It's not that Carolina's defense has been slouching. The team has the NFL's top-rated defense in yards allowed and it looked it for most of the game against the Dolphins. Miami gained 70 of its 313 yards of total offense on its final drive against some of Carolina's backup defenders on its only fourth-quarter possession.

--Linebacker Luke Kuechly has three interceptions this season after picking off a Jay Cutler pass late in the first half. With 15 interceptions in his six-year NFL career, he ranks fourth in franchise history.

"When you have guys on your team who do a good job of playing their responsibilities, sometimes you are just in the right spot at the right time to make a play," Kuechly said.

Since entering the NFL in 2012, he has the most pickoffs of any linebacker in the league.

--Running back Jonathan Stewart played with an extra edge against the Dolphins in the first game since losing two fumbles against the Atlanta Falcons. With that, he gained 110 rushing yards on 17 carries.

"Just an opportunity to get it done, just a sense of urgency," he said. "Last week was pretty uncharacteristic. It stung me. You feel like you let your team down. ... I had to deal with that for the whole week. I just couldn't wait to get back on the field and help my team out the best way that I know I can."

Stewart is the franchise's all-time leading rusher. In 15 games, he has reached the 100-yard rushing mark. Only DeAngelo Williams with 18 games of reaching 100 yards has more.

Stewart must like games on Monday nights. His most recent 100-yard rushing outing had come last year on a Monday night against the Washington Redskins.


--PASSING OFFENSE: A - The Panthers were incredibly efficient with QB Cam Newton completing 21 of 35 passes for 254 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. He spread it around with seven different players making at least one catch. The Panthers had a bonus with solid downfield blocking in many cases, allowing for what might have been modest pickups turning into significant gains.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: A - This area has blossomed for the past two weeks, with the 294 rushing yards just barely missing the franchise record. RB Jonathan Stewart's season-high 110 rushing yards were one of the highlights, but QB Cam Newton added 95 yards on the ground and RB Cameron Artis-Payne supplied 68 more yards. The Panthers averaged 8.2 yards per carry and they were able to chew chunks off the clock as well.

--PASS DEFENSE: B-plus - The Panthers limited damage among the 22 completions for the Dolphins, who totaled only 213 yards through the air despite playing with a deficit for most of the game. Carolina never surrendered a pass play for more than 24 yards. Despite failing to record a sack, the pass rush was a factor with the defensive line applying pressure on Dolphins QB Jay Cutler on a regular basis.

--RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus - This was a stingy effort and the grade would have been off the charts if not for one play. That's when Miami RB Kenyan Drake rambled 66 yards for a third-quarter touchdown when the score was 31-7. Otherwise, the Panthers held the Dolphins to 34 rushing yards on the other 16 carries.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus - The Panthers were solid in this area with no significant breakdowns, though a penalty on a return was disappointing. P Michael Palardy continues to be a difference-maker. WR Curtis Samuel showed flashes on kickoff returns before an injury shortened his outing.

--COACHING: A - The Panthers looked well prepared and didn't miss a beat. The team has won three games in a row. In this game, some of the areas on offense that the Panthers were counting on after the trade of WR Kelvin Benjamin came to fruition as they took advantage of speed on the outside at times. The Panthers also looked comfortable playing with the lead.

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