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Panthers played the complementary style they preach

Haason Reddick strip sack versus Cardinals

GLENDALE, Ariz. — This is not a story about Cam Newton.

That's the rest of them.

This story is about the Panthers playing the kind of complementary football coaches dream of, the one side helping the other, the unheralded guys stepping into larger roles, the kind of game that allows everyone to get a share of the credit.

"A total team win," Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said Sunday night, comparing it to the win at Atlanta earlier this season in which both sides put in a dutiful day's work.

The convincing 34-10 win over the Cardinals was evidence that was true beyond the cliché.

Granted, the Cardinals were playing without quarterback Kyler Murray and star receiver DeAndre Hopkins. But they were still 8-1, and still had a top-five defense, so no one was apologizing for anything on the Panthers sideline. And from the Earth, Wind and Fire blasting from the locker room, they were all in the mood to celebrate.

The Panthers held the Cardinals to 169 yards, and were able to set the stage for the new quarterback's early flair by creating a pair of turnovers and stopping the Cardinals on a fourth-down try in the first quarter alone.

At that point, the conditioned air inside State Farm Stadium was gone, stolen by a Panthers defense intent on asserting itself.

The fact it was pass-rusher Haason Reddick with the strip-sack on quarterback Colt McCoy for the first one added a layer as rich in storyline as anything Newton did. Reddick spent three unsatisfying years in Arizona followed by a breakout that didn't lead to a new contract, and he admitted that made it more special for him.

"It felt good, real good, I'm not going to lie," Reddick said. "I'm really happy to come back here and get a W after everything I've been through here, everything that happened this offseason. For us to go out and dominate and play a game like that, I'm extremely happy."

The way the Panthers fed off that was clear, and Reddick said the team's energy "was just crazy today. Energy was on a different level. It carried over every drive. Even coming out of there through halftime, it just carried over."

That hasn't always been the case, and he knows Newton and his megawatt personality is a component.

"Probably a lot now that I think about it," Reddick replied when asked if that was because of Newton. "After I got the sack, came in and turned it into a touchdown. The team is in really, really high spirits."

On both sides of the ball.

While it didn't necessarily match the 47-carry, 203-yard day in Atlanta that Rhule referenced, the Panthers were able to control the game on the ground. They ran 37 times for 166 yards, and made good use of Christian McCaffrey. He had 161 yards from scrimmage on 23 touches, and was able to watch much of the second half safely on the sidelines.

McCaffrey was content to do so, and quick to spread the credit around. He took his turn to talk about his offensive line, starting its seventh combination in 10 games. In addition to running the ball well, the Panthers also didn't give up a sack for just the second time this season. After a rough start for a patched-together group, they've allowed just one sack in the last three games combined.

"I think that what our O-line did today, too, was a massive statement," McCaffrey said. "I want to give a shoutout to them because they were under a lot of scrutiny. There's a lot of noise talking about our O-line and disrespecting the way that those guys played and they took that personally and went out there today and played a hell of a game. They're like the silent assassins. They're only getting mentioned when something bad happens.

"They're a lot of strong guys mentally and emotionally who can take all that criticism and continue to fight and continue to work with guys down and injured can step up and play a game like that and dominate like that was awesome."

Again, it trickled through the entire team. Kicker Zane Gonzalez, like Reddick, an Arizona castoff, hit four field goals and has made 16 straight. He's leading the league at the moment with 12 field goals of 40 yards or longer, the kind of dependable special teams work you need with this kind of defense.

But perhaps no player embodied the theme of the day as much as quarterback P.J. Walker.

He was actually the starter, in case you forgot, and spent a week preparing to lead the team while everyone around him was talking about the new guy.

Walker threw an interception, but otherwise played the kind of efficient game they needed, completing 22-of-29 passes for 167 yards. He knows what's happening here, but he also allowed the Panthers time to not send a quarterback onto the field with one day of practice.

"I was just so proud of him," McCaffrey said, spreading the love around. "He's somebody that just puts his head down and goes to work every single day. Always has a smile on his face, always is positive. There was a lot of noise going around him, and it's just such a cool story in and of itself that he comes here and gets to start this week and we beat a hell of a team on the road. I was just really proud of him, and it was fun playing next to him today."

Even if he's a bit of a placeholder, Walker knew this was an important game for him. He said he didn't sleep well Saturday night, flopping around and seeing 4 a.m. and not knowing if he was at his best. But he did enough, and until Newton spends a week here, that was what the Panthers needed.

Rhule wouldn't commit to next week's starting quarterback when asked, and steered the question back to his former Temple player, who justified his place.

"I know we're talking a lot about Cam, I get it," Rhule said. "But I think a lot of us would say P.J. played pretty well today. We brought Cam here to play, there's no doubt about that. But this was an amazing opportunity for P.J., and everybody asks me why he's here, and why did you guys keep him as your backup? That's why.

"I had a lot of faith in him."

He was able to trust in Walker, in part because he and so many others proved themselves trustworthy.

See photos from State Farm Stadium as Carolina takes on Arizona in Week 10.

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