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6-Pack: No Love lost

Posted Oct 2, 2017

Players don't often get to serve Bill Belichick a measure of revenge. Kyle Love did.

1.) To Bill, With(out) Love

Kyle Love isn’t one to turn down media requests. But he did this past week. You could argue the defensive tackle wanted to beat the Patriots more than any other player on the Panthers’ roster and he wanted to save his talking for Sunday. 

“Ever since I left here, I always wanted to play them and play them here,” Love said after Carolina’s 33-30 victory. “I always said when I get out there on the field, there's going to be blood out there because I've got to show Bill how I really feel.” 

Bill as in Belichick, the Patriots head coach who Love felt treated him wrong in 2013. That spring, after making 24 starts in two seasons with New England, he was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. A month later, Love was released.

“The way I left here, it really hurt me. It was the wrong way to do it,” he said. “If I could've got a real answer, I could've taken it a better way. But the way it happened, it's just bad blood. I've always just wanted to beat them.

“I can't say the words I really want to say, but I have no love for (Belichick). I do love the players, but for him, I have no love.” 

Despite his limited role, Love did have an affect, finishing with a tackle, two hurries of quarterback Tom Brady and most importantly, a win. 

“When Graham (Gano) made that kick, that was the best feeling ever,” Love said. “This was probably the best birthday present, best Christmas present I could've gotten this year.”

Yeah, the guy who won’t celebrate his 31st birthday until mid-November was arguably the happiest guy in the locker room. 

“For the rest of the year,” Love said, “that was the best present I could've gotten.” 


2.) Surprise!

Sunday’s pregame stats didn’t bode well for an upset. 
Since 2002, the Patriots had led the NFL a 118-23 record at home, including a league-best 49-12 mark in inter-conference games. The Panthers, meanwhile, hadn’t beaten a defending Super Bowl champion since 2005. 
Chalk one up for the ‘stats are for losers’ crowd. 
“A lot of people counted us out this game,” said running back Jonathan Stewart, who passed DeAngelo Williams for the No. 1 spot on the Panthers’ all-time rushing list. 
“There are a lot of guys on this team that deserve (credit), and when they feel that they are not getting that, naturally you have that chip on your shoulder. At the end of the day, it’s not about what people think; it’s about what this locker room can change. We thought we were going to win today; we expected to win today. That’s the way we went out there and played.”
Added fellow back Christian McCaffrey
“I think everybody counted us out early in the week and we took that as a little bit more motivation. It's really easy to get down on us when we lose and when we're not playing the way we want to but this locker room sticks together.” 
To be honest, when I first heard McCaffrey say that, I chalked it up to him again saying the right thing. But while this wasn’t, say, the 1980 U.S. hockey team beating the Russians, what other mentality could these guys have had? 
“We expect to win every game. I think we have the talent in this room to do so,” McCaffrey said. “If you don't expect to win, you're not going to give yourself a chance. You've got to envision yourself doing great things, you've got to envision yourself winning in order to actually go out and do it.”

Sunday’s pregame stats didn’t bode well for an upset. 

Since 2002, the Patriots had led the NFL a 118-23 record at home, including a league-best 49-12 mark in interconference games. The Panthers, meanwhile, hadn’t beaten a defending Super Bowl champion since 2005. 

Chalk one up for the "stats are for losers" crowd. 

“A lot of people counted us out this game,” said running back Jonathan Stewart, who passed DeAngelo Williams for the No. 1 spot on the Panthers’ all-time rushing list. 

“There are a lot of guys on this team that deserve (credit), and when they feel that they are not getting that, naturally you have that chip on your shoulder. At the end of the day, it’s not about what people think; it’s about what this locker room can change. We thought we were going to win today; we expected to win today. That’s the way we went out there and played.”

Added backfield mate Christian McCaffrey, who totaled 49 yards on 10 touches:  

“I think everybody counted us out early in the week, and we took that as a little bit more motivation. It's really easy to get down on us when we lose and when we're not playing the way we want to, but this locker room sticks together.” 

To be honest, when I first heard McCaffrey say that, I chalked it up to him again saying the right thing. But while this wasn’t, say, the 1980 U.S. hockey team beating the Russians, what other mentality could these guys have had? 

“We expect to win every game. I think we have the talent in this room to do so,” McCaffrey said. “If you don't expect to win, you're not going to give yourself a chance. You've got to envision yourself doing great things, you've got to envision yourself winning in order to actually go out and do it.”


3.) Running Cam

Before he came back to Carolina, Julius Peppers was 3-1 against Cam Newton and Co. But the defensive end saw firsthand what Newton’s legs can do to a defense. 

In those four games against Peppers, Newton rushed 29 times for 170 yards and three touchdowns. 

“The dual threat is a thing that’s been around for a while. He’s a different type of that,” Peppers said Sunday. “We had Michael Vick that could beat you with his legs, but it wasn’t powerful. (Newton) has not only another element with his legs, it’s also power runs. So that’s something a little unique to his skillset, and it does keep you offbalance and frustrated.”

Which makes the Panthers’ plan to run Newton fewer times to preserve his future potentially less beneficial to their present goals. 

Which is why it’s important to note what happened in the second half when Newton gained 39 yards on six designed runs. Two came on third downs during a touchdown drive. Another was a touchdown. 

Before Sunday, Newton had five designed runs for 10 yards in 2017. 

“That does help him get more into a rhythm,” head coach Ron Rivera admitted. “That’s why I talk about using him judiciously, being smart about when you do put the ball in his hands as a runner. And again, it’s not like we want to give him 10 to 15 carries. We are smart about it, and I know (offensive coordinator) Mike (Shula) really thought about it. And, I thought, the play calling, the rhythm he got into on several of these drives was very good.” 

And according to linebacker Thomas Davis, a more involved Newton has a multi-pronged effect on the Panthers. 

“It definitely adds juice to your game when you see your quarterback go out and perform the way that he did today,” Davis said. “We know what he is capable of, and it’s been very reserved the first couple of weeks.

“I feel like the play calling hasn’t been aggressive, but we opened up the playbook today and it showed. You could see it in his performance. He was juiced and he went out and played like Cam today.”


4.) Injury Updates

Like many wins in the NFL, this one came at a cost.

  • Wide receiver Damiere Byrd suffered a fracture in his left arm on a reverse early in the second quarter. 

  • Three minutes before Byrd went out, safety Kurt Coleman injured his left knee. He was in a brace afterward, and he’ll undergo further testing Monday, but the Panthers are hopeful Coleman’s injury isn’t season-ending. 

  • Demetrious Cox, who was in for Coleman, tweaked an ankle in the fourth quarter and was replaced by Colin Jones. Cox later said he'd “be fine.” 

  • Defensive end Mario Addison missed the end of the first half after tweaking his left knee. He returned for the second half but finished without recording a statistic for the first time since a Week 4 loss to Atlanta last season. 

  • Guard Trai Turner missed one play in the fourth quarter after a defender rolled up on his ankle. Turner was unconcerned about it after the game.  

  • Peppers left Gillette Stadium with an ice bag on the right shoulder that made him a game-day decision. Peppers sacked Brady twice, and through Sunday’s games, the 37-year-old ranks fith in the NFL with 4.5 sacks. 

5.) Next DBs Up

On September 3, the Panthers made a couple of moves that barely registered with much of the fan base. That's the day their trade with Buffalo for cornerback Kevon Seymour became official, and it's when they snagged safety Demetrious Cox off waivers from the Bengals. 

Just four Sundays later, the two under-the-radar additions played a big part in the Panthers' upset. 

Subbing for an injured Daryl Worley, Seymour was solid if unspectacular against the NFL’s most potent offense. 

“I played alright. I have to have better eyes and stuff,” he said. “I could've played a little faster, but I played pretty disciplined for the most part.

“The guys up front, (linebacker) Luke (Kuechly), they trusted me. The safeties trusted me.”

One of those safeties was Cox, who was called into duty when Coleman exited early in the second quarter. 

“I've just got to thank God for the opportunity first of all because I went from where I was a couple months ago to playing against Tom Brady,” Cox said. 

Brady got his, of course. But if I told you a secondary partly made up of two guys who were on the roster for just four weeks would help hold Brady to two touchdowns, you’d take it, right? 

“They don't start, but we didn't blink when they got in,” safety Mike Adams said of Seymour and Cox. “They were ready. They answered the bell.

“Obviously we weren't on the same page all the time, but that we can fix by getting more reps together. For the most part, they held their own. I'm proud of them.”


6.) Never a Doubt?

Yes, Graham Gano’s missed extra point could have been costly. But with the season potentially on the line, the kicker repaid the faith the Panthers have shown in him.

Actually, Gano has been as solid as can be on field goals through four weeks, booting through all 10 of his attempts. Of guys with double-digits attempts, only Gano and Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein (14-of-14) have made all their kicks. 

But what was it like being one of Gano’s teammates while he lined up for the game-winning 48-yarder? 

“I had my fingers crossed,” Adams said, “and I'm like, ‘Come on, come on.’ I had a great feeling he was going to make it and redeem himself from earlier on the extra point.” 

Turner had a front-row seat. Kind of.

“I get down in my stance, and seeing how low (the defender) is, I know I have to get lower,” said Turner. “I see two guys in my gap, I know I have to block these two gaps. If I give (Gano) a second to at least get his kick up and rising, I know it's going to be good. I see it every day in practice.”

Which, thankfully for Gano and the Panthers, translated to game day. 

“I call it ‘get that money,’” Addison said, “and that he did, man. He went out there and sealed the deal.”