CHARLOTTE - Fantasy football fans featuring Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and tight end Greg Olsen in their lineups had reason to celebrate Sunday.
Newton and Olsen had reason to celebrate as well – decidedly different reasons.
"Winning is this league is hard. This is the NFL," Olsen said. "The difference between 3-0 and 0-3? You can see what it is today – a couple of points."
The Panthers are 3-0 for the first time since 2003 thanks in large measure to Olsen and Newton, who had particularly productive days even by their standards to help drop the New Orleans Saints to 0-3 with a 27-22 victory.
For just the second time in his last 29 games, Newton threw for 300-plus yards. And for just the third time in his eight-plus NFL seasons, Olsen caught two touchdown passes to go with a career-high 134 receiving yards.
"Those two were in sync today," right guard Trai Turner said, "and I enjoyed every minute of it."
So did Olsen, but not because of the gaudy stats.
"I don't really get wrapped up in catches and fantasy football things. It's not the way I view the tight end position," Olsen said. "I take a lot of pride impacting the game with or without the ball. Only a few guys in the league can do that.
"The balls are going to come, and when they come, I try to maximize the plays."
Olsen felt much the same about his quarterback's day. Newton's 315 passing yards were nice, as were his two passing touchdowns and a 13-yard touchdown run off a nice play call. But just as important – not for fantasy football but in reality – was a remarkable 9-yard scramble by Newton on a third-and-5 that kept a drive alive that ended with a field goal late in the third quarter.
"We can throw for 300, but if he runs for a touchdown and converts a couple of third downs with his legs, those are game-changing plays," Olsen said. "He was great. What can you say?"
Newton returned the favor.
"What hasn't been said about Greg?" Newton said. "It is just him being him."
The duo was in the zone in the second quarter. After the Saints controlled the clock and forged a 10-0 lead, Olsen got things going with a one-handed grab for 27 yards on a perfectly placed pass from Newton. On the next snap, Olsen drew a rare flag for holding on a 10-yard run by Newton, but the offense overcame it and found the end zone on a 4-yard toss from Newton to Olsen that resulted in a fleeting celebration.
Fellow tight end Richie Brockel was flagged for offensive pass interference on the play, much to Olsen's dismay. So when Olsen scored two plays later on an 11-yard toss from Newton, he spiked the ball with more force than usual.
"I'm not a big celebrator, but that felt good to finally score," said Olsen, who also had a touchdown in the season opener wiped out by a flag. "Touchdowns are hard to come by. You can't give those away.
"We were able to overcome the holding call and score, and then overcome the interference call and score again. It goes to show a lot about the guys we have here. They have a lot of resiliency and not a lot of panic. We've been in some tough situations over the years, and sometimes you can draw from those experiences and keep moving forward."
Speaking of moving forward, Olsen matched a career-long catch on the first play of Carolina's next drive, a 52-yard gain to set up a field goal that tied things up just before halftime.
"That particular route was something that he brought up about the defenders and how they were playing him," Newton said. "And sure enough, they gave us what we wanted, and it was just him making a play."
Newton and Olsen made another play midway through the third quarter, giving the Panthers their first lead with another 11-yard touchdown connection. Newton took care of Carolina's last touchdown himself early in the fourth quarter, faking a handoff on third-and-2 from the Saints 13 and bootlegging it around the left side untouched for what proved the game-winning score.
"It's just a credit to great coaching and guys going out there and executing," Newton said. "We try to find things that we do well and just focus on them."
Sunday, Newton and Olsen both did so many things well that the Saints defense didn't know where to focus.
It made for a dream come true – for fantasy football and Panthers football alike.