CHARLOTTE, N.C. _ In the postgame after Sunday's 30-3 shellacking by the Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton was asked when the last time a Newton-led offense had gone without a touchdown in a game.
“Never, ever, ever,” replied the first overall pick in the 2011 draft, who rolled impressive numbers through the first half of his first NFL season.
The fact that Newton was held in check to that degrees was a credit to the Titans defense, which sacked Newton five times on Sunday, held his favorite receiver Steve Smith to just 33 yards and bottled up running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart with just 58 yards between them.
“We talked about their offense all week. They've done a great job of scoring points and being productive,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “I think Jerry Gray and his staff had a great plan, and we got pressure in a lot of different ways. We got different guys winning one-on-one battles, getting some hits and kind of taking them out of their game early, and that was huge. That was fun to watch, and that's what it takes to win in this league. To hold them to three points was a hell of an effort by a lot of people.”
Gray knew it would be difficult to control the mercurial rookie QB's scrambling completely – Newton had 55 yards on seven runs to go with 212 yards passing – but he just wanted to keep Newton from hitting any big home runs.
“The big thing is don't give up any points in the red zone. ... Cam, the long runs, the guy is incredible,” Gray said. “He can get out of a lot of stuff that other guys can't get out of. We told them, 'Don't get frustrated. He's good at that.' If he gets one or two, just don't let him get to the end zone and that's what our guys did.”
In all, it was probably not just the Titans' best defensive performance of the season, but perhaps in recent memory going back a few seasons. Not so much from a statistical standpoint as from an execution standpoint, as Tennessee's defense carried out its assigments and managed to keep the high-powered Panthers in check.
“We beat a good team today. They were No. 1 in explosive plays,” cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. “They have a dynamic receiver, they run the ball well and Cam can beat you with his legs and his arm. For us to make a statement like this, we've got to build on it.”
Added linebacker Will Witherspoon, who had a forced fumble that stopped one Carolina drive, “We just kept playing the game. I don't know if there was much we could have done better. We made some mistakes, but that's going to happen during the course of a game.”
What is even more remarkable is that the Titans turned in such an effort with a rookie middle linebacker in Colin McCarthy calling the defensive signals in making his first NFL start in place of an injured Barrett Ruud.
McCarthy was more than up to the challenge, as the fourth-round pick from Miami had a team-high eight tackles, including one for loss, and a hit on Newton.
“Jerry and Frank Bush did a great job with him and his confidence throughout the week, putting him in situations. He's out there calling the defenses for a rookie and stayed on the field most of the game,” Munchak said. “I think it just shows you what we saw in him. He handled himself very well, especially on the road. He was calling the defenses and getting his guys lined up. He was making adjustments. It was just great that he went in there very composed and poised and definitely was a big part of how we played on defense.”
Gray, too, had high praise for McCarthy, and for Bush for keeping him in tune during the game.
“We got a chance to do some good things with him. I told him what I was thinking on every play, and he echoed that into the huddle and we went that way,” Gray said. “That's the good thing. Now you've got guys doing what you're asking them to do and they carried the plan out to perfection.
“If you're a mike linebacker, you've got to be all over the field. You can't think of yourself as a rookie. Frank did a tremendous job with him early on, and between series Frank worked with him and talked to him. And he kept assuring him, 'You're doing a good job, you're doing a good job.' Young guys need that. Young guys ask, 'Hey, how am I doing?' Don't wait till the end of the game, and Frank did a great job in doing that.”
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