Coming off a stunning upset of the reigning Super Bowl champions on the road, the Carolina Panthers look to build on that victory when they host the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday afternoon.
The Panthers (4-2) scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and squeezed out the 21-17 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles when quarterback Cam Newton connected with tight end Greg Olsen for the go-ahead touchdown pass with 82 seconds to play.
It marked the 17th fourth-quarter game-winning drive for Newton.
“He’s not a pure, pure pocket passer,” Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said of his dual-threat quarterback. “A lot is about his desire and wanting to win. He wants the ball. Cam has always wanted the ball.”
And the Ravens want Newton, particularly after a galling 24-23 home defeat to the New Orleans Saints when kicker Justin Tucker misfired on the first extra-point attempt of his stellar career.
“Superman! I mean, how often do you get to play against a superhero? His nickname kind of speaks for himself,” Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “He’s definitely going to be difficult to bring down, but hopefully neither one of us has to do it by ourselves.”
Newton passed for 269 yards and a pair of touchdowns and rushed for 49 yards on seven carries to rally the Panthers from a 17-0 deficit in the final 15 minutes against the Eagles. He threw for 201 yards in the fourth quarter alone as Carolina went to a hurry-up offense.
“When you get a rhythm, it really helps,” said Rivera of the up-tempo pace. “Do we need to look at it? Most certainly. I don’t think that’s going to drive what we do as an offense.”
Olsen had only two catches in his second game back from a fractured foot, but his presence could open things up for wide receiver Devin Funchess, who has a touchdown reception in three of the past four games.
Baltimore gave up 17-fourth-quarter points to Drew Brees and the Saints, but still allows the fewest yards (280.6) and fewest points (14.4) in the league.
The focus for the Ravens, who also top the NFL with 27 sacks, will be on containing Newton, who has thrown for 1,427 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s also run for three scores.
“They do a great job of getting him out there as a runner,” said Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh. “He runs the ball — he’ll slide occasionally — but most of the time he’s low on his shoulder and trying to get first downs, even blocking. I mean, he’s down there sometimes after he gives it on some of that stuff, if he’s down there throwing blocks.
“But I guess he’s protected well. He does that, so I’m not sure how that works. (He is a) very physical player, tough to bring down in the pocket, just a real physical guy as a quarterback.”
Newton has led the team in rushing in each of the past two games. Panthers running back Christian McCaffery has just 15 carries combined in those game games, although he has 13 receptions in that span and a team-leading 40 on the season.
Baltimore’s ground game also is struggling. Leading rusher Alex Collins has cracked 60 yards just once and will be going up against a stout Carolina run defense that is allowing 95 yards per game.
The onus could fall on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to make big plays downfield. Flacco is ranked fifth in the NFL with 2,067 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. Receiver John Brown has caught 28 passes for 558 yards and four touchdowns and Michael Crabtree has 35 receptions.
“We understand we’re going against a good football team, but we have confidence in what we’re doing and what our defense is doing,” Flacco said. “So, we just have to keep our foot down on the pedal and just kind of (take it) one play at a time, locked in, and that’s everybody. I think if we do that, then we’ll limit all those chances.”
Baltimore is tied with Cincinnati for second place in the AFC North, one-half game behind Pittsburgh. Carolina sits one game behind first-place New Orleans in the NFC North and wants to build on the momentum of last week’s comeback.
“It’s about who you play next and how you play against them,” Rivera said. “But, again, I think it’s a chance to take a big step.”