CHARLOTTE, N.C. - With the skyline lit in Panthers blue, the eyes of football fans across the country were on the Queen City on Monday night.
Carolina cruised to a 45-21 win over the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football at Bank of America Stadium.
“It’s more exciting because the whole nation is watching the game. It’s a chance for Charlotte to shine,” fan Craig Smith said.
The Panthers certainly shined in prime time.
Quarterback Cam Newton passed for 254 yards with four touchdowns, and more importantly, no interceptions and no sacks. He also gained 95 rushing yards.
The Panthers gained a team record 548 yards of offense.
Rookie running back Christian McCaffrey scored a pair of touchdowns for the Panthers, and Devin Funchess added two touchdown receptions.
Carolina (7-3) heads into its bye week on a three-game winning streak. The Panthers play at the New York Jets on Nov. 26.
The Panthers poured it on in the third quarter as Funchess caught a screen pass and ran 28 yards for a touchdown. Moments later, Cameron Artis-Payne added a 12-yard rushing score.
But the Dolphins roared back with their first rushing touchdown of the season, a 66-yard scamper by Kenyon Drake, cutting their deficit to 31-14.
Newton's touchdown pass to McCaffrey extended Carolina's lead to 38-14 late in the third quarter.
The Panthers led 17-7 at halftime.
McCaffrey's 4-yard touchdown run provided the Panthers with a 10-0 edge midway through the second quarter.
The Dolphins answered after scoring on a 10-play, 75-yard drive, capped off by Julius Thomas's touchdown grab.
Newton connected on a short score with Ed Dickson just before halftime.
Carolina scored first as Graham Gano booted a 40-yard field goal with just under two minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Draught, a restaurant and bar next door to Bank of America Stadium, was expecting up to 4,000 people to come in throughout the night.
“When teams come here, especially for prime time games, their fans come and they show out, so it drives the numbers up sometimes double,” Draught’s general manager Baryn Spry said.
Spry said the preparation for a Panthers game takes months.
“We’ve got to get extension permits, get those in,” Spry said. “We’ve got to get extra beer, extra food, extra liquor.”
With the large event, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officers did not take any chances with security. The department had more officers for Monday night’s game than any other game. CMPD pulled officers from other parts of the city, and some who were off-duty.
“With all the things that are going on right now, I look over here and I see the officer standing here and that just makes me feel a lot of safer,” fan Gena Rodriguez said.
“We watch every single Panthers game, but we chose to come to this game because Monday nights, I think, are more special,” fan Ashleigh Russell said.
ESPN analyst Jon Gruden expected Newton to shine in these big moments.
“Cam Newton thrives in prime time,” Gruden said. “He’s one of those guys that I think, the more vibe, the more energy that’s in the stadium, the better he plays”
Newton owns a 5-1 record on Monday Night Football, and he’s undefeated when he plays at home.
The team mantra for the Panthers is "Keep Pounding," describing a spirit of strength and resilience. The will use that saying to honor service members who died in the line of duty.
Each member of the Panthers wore the initials of a fallen service member on their helmet, while family members those soldiers met the players, who wore the decal with their loved one's initials.
Players talked about the added incentive.
This was the second year in a row the Panthers donned the initials of fallen service members.
“I have no doubt, I’ll look down at those initials tonight and it'll get me going,” Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey said.
The "Monday Night Football" game was the first time the Panthers and Dolphins have met since the 2013 season. The Panthers defeated the Dolphins 20-16.
"We're diehard fans, we love the Panthers, right? It's a good opportunity for everyone to watch our team, so we gotta put our best foot forward,” fan Marc Sinacory said. “Everyone's watching."
Rivera: Panthers 'not very optimistic' about Samuel's ankle
The Panthers will be looking for a new starting wide receiver heading into the bye week.
Panthers rookie Curtis Samuel will undergo an MRI after injuring his left ankle in Carolina's 45-21 win over the Miami Dolphins on Monday night. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday trainers were "not very optimistic" about Samuel's prognosis after he hobbled off the field in the third quarter and did not return.
Samuel replaced traded Kelvin Benjamin in the starting lineup two weeks ago, giving the team more speed. Carolina's offense has excelled since then, racking up franchise record 548 yards against Miami.
Russell Shepard would likely replace Samuel if he is sidelined.
Rivera is confident tight end Greg Olsen will return from injured reserve and play against the Jets on Nov. 26.
After rough week, Stewart runs strong again in Panthers rout
Jonathan Stewart saw huge running lanes, ran with some familiar punch - and held onto the football, too.
It was a reminder that the Carolina Panthers' 10-year veteran still has some burst left in his legs, not to mention the ability to shake off an uncharacteristically bad performance.
A week after losing two fumbles, Stewart cracked the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time this season to lead Carolina's huge rushing performance in a 45-21 win against the Miami Dolphins on Monday night.
Stewart ran for 110 yards on 17 carries - including one in which he hurdled cornerback Cordrea Tankersley near the sideline - in his first 100-yard game since finishing with 132 yards in a win against Washington in December.
"I think first of all he came back and you could see it on his face," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "There was a little bit of resolve. He took it personally. He blamed itself. ... You saw the competitiveness of who he is come out."
Stewart has always provided Carolina with tough-yardage runs, though he didn't need much of that Monday with the huge holes being opened by Carolina's offensive line. The Panthers flirted with a franchise single-game rushing record before finishing with 294 yards while setting the mark for total offense with 543 yards.
It comes at a perfect time for Stewart to maintain his long-standing position as mainstay of the Panthers' backfield, even though he shrugged off the suggestion that his play was motivated by sending any sort of message.
"Last week, obviously, was pretty uncharacteristic," Stewart said. "Just glad I have another opportunity to come out here and help my team win."
Stewart hadn't run for more than 68 yards in a game this season. And with first-round rookie Christian McCaffrey also getting carries, Stewart had gotten just 11 carries in each of the past two games - and hadn't done much with them by averaging just 2.5 yards per attempt.
Then there were the two fumbles in last week's home win against Atlanta, marking the first two-turnover game of his career. It was the smudge on a season-best rushing performance (201 yards on 38 carries) that included McCaffrey earning a season-high 15 carries.
But Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula said earlier in the week that he still believed in Stewart, who set the franchise's career rushing mark earlier this season. The players seemed to feel the same.
"Him trying to get extra yards, you risk that sometimes," said receiver Devin Funchess, who had a pair of touchdown grabs. "But he's going to make more big plays than slipups for us. For me, I don't hold that against him and nobody else in the locker room should, because the amount of effort and grind he puts in throughout the week and on Sundays is a beautiful thing."
Getting Stewart back into gear has the potential to drive an offense that also got a big rushing game from quarterback Cam Newton (95 yards) while losing a threat in the passing game with rookie receiver Curtis Samuel going down with an ankle injury.
Stewart isn't changing his approach, either.
"Just a little bit more attention to details in certain things, whatever it is," Stewart said. "But at the end of the day, I'm not trying to switch anything too crazy or anything like that. Just come to work, have the mindset of doing your job."
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