1. COLEMAN WAS A DIFFERENCE MAKER: After being relegated to a reserve role in Kansas City and Philadelphia the last two seasons, safety Kurt Coleman has been solid in his return to a starting role.
Monday, he was spectacular.
"Kurt is making plays. I love it for him," fellow safety Roman Harper said. "He's showing up every week."
Coleman made four huge plays in a game where every stop mattered. After a lost fumble set up Indianapolis just 22 yards away from tying the game midway through the second quarter, Coleman swatted a third-down pass into the end zone out of tight end Coby Fleener's arms to force a field goal. He followed with impressive run stops in third-and-1 situations near midfield on either side of halftime, then capped it with an interception to set up a touchdown that put Carolina ahead 23-6.
"Kurt Coleman played a very big-time game," head coach Ron Rivera said.
2. ENTIRE SECONDARY CONTRIBUTED: The entire secondary, in fact, was busy making plays all night.
"This defensive backfield is a really good group, a really tight group," Harper said. "It's a family, and when someone makes a big play, we cheer for each other."
There was a lot of cheer for.
In addition to Coleman's exploits, the veterans of the group – Harper and cornerback Charles Tillman – set the tone early. Harper recovered a fumble on the Colts' second snap to set up a field goal, then Tillman picked off a pass three plays later to set up a touchdown for an early 10-0 lead.
Harper had 12 tackles, while Coleman and cornerback Bene Benwikere had eight apiece. Harper, Coleman, Tillman and Josh Norman combined for 10 passes defensed.
3. O-LINE DISPLAYS DEPTH: As if entering the game without four-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil wasn't enough, the Panthers lost starting left guard Andrew Norwell early in the first quarter to a hamstring injury.
But the line held it together, allowing just two sacks for 9 yards – including one that didn't even lose yardage – with Chris Scott and Amini Silatolu holding down left guard alongside reserve center Fernando Velasco.
"I thought those guys did what they needed to," Rivera said. "I think Fernando Velasco played a heck of a football game in place of Ryan Kalil. You would much rather have your starters out there, but we are fortunate enough that I think we are deep in some positions, and offensive line is one of them."
4. RUN GAME ADJUSTS PROPERLY: It wasn't easy on a sloppy surface, but in the end the Panthers churned out 140 yards on the ground. They entered the game as the league leaders with 144 rushing yards a game.
"I think early on it took our edge running game out of play," Rivera said of the impact of the rainy conditions. "So we came out in the second half and started driving up the middle."
Carolina's first two drives of the second half produced nearly half of the rushing yards for running back Jonathan Stewart (39 of 82) and quarterback Cam Newton (16 of 41). The drives didn't produce points in large part because of a fumble at the 1-yard line but did help wear down Indy's defense in what proved to be a marathon.
"Unfortunately, we fumbled on the goal line," Rivera said. "But I thought what (offensive coordinator) Mike Shula and the offense decided to do coming out of the third quarter was excellent. We went right at them."
5. CROWD DESERVES CREDIT: Between the weather and the storm the Panthers had to weather late, the crowd could have checked out early.
It was just the opposite.
"For them to stick through that – it was rough conditions there for a while – and to hear them have our back when we were struggling a little bit, that means a lot," tight end Greg Olsen said. "The city right now is abuzz with Panther mania. They're excited, and we're happy they're enjoying it. They deserve it."
View game action photos from Carolina's 29-26 overtime win against Indianapolis.