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What We Learned: Panthers vs. Saints

NEWTON IN A GROOVE: Cam Newton is rolling. Carolina's star quarterback completed 20-of-31 passes for 315 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the win over New Orleans. He also ran seven times for 33 yards and another score.

"I thought (Cam's) performance was outstanding," head coach Ron Rivera said.

He's getting solid protection up front (only sacked once Sunday), and when the pocket does collapse, he's scrambling away to keep drives alive.

When Newton plays like this, the Panthers are simply difficult to beat.

NORMAN IN A GROOVE, TOO: On the other side of the ball, cornerback Josh Norman continues to emerge as one of the league's best defensive backs.

In Week 1 at Jacksonville, he turned the game around with a pick-six. In Week 2, he shut down top-flight Houston wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. This week, he sealed the win with a jaw-dropping interception in the end zone.

And Norman insists this is only the beginning.

"I don't feel like I've reached the pinnacle yet," Norman said. "I'm still growing and understanding things. I pick up more and more every year. I'm locked into this thing physically, mentally and spiritually and trying to be the best. Now that I'm able to get that chance, I want to soar."

DEFENSE COULD BE WITHOUT JOHNSON FOR A WHILE: Early indications are not good on defensive end Charles Johnson's hamstring injury. Rivera said there is "most certainly" concern after Johnson hobbled to the sideline before being carted off the field in the second half.

The Panthers only registered one sack Sunday against the Saints, and that came when linebacker Shaq Thompson forced Luke McCown out of bounds for no gain. It should be pointed out, however, that the Saints used a lot of quick passes and check downs.

Still, the pass rush has been inconsistent so far this season, and creating pressure will be even harder without Johnson, the clear leader of the D-line.

Elsewhere on the injury front, linebacker Thomas Davis and running back Jonathan Stewart were removed from the game late in the fourth quarter, but Rivera didn't have any updates, adding only that Johnson's injury is most severe.

RUN DEFENSE ON POINT AGAIN: The pass rush has been a challenge, but Carolina's run defense was stout once again in Week 3. After allowing just 61 rushing yards against the Texans, the Panthers surrendered 70 yards to New Orleans.

If Carolina continues to stuff the run, opportunities to rush the passer more effectively will be presented.

OFFENSE DISPLEASED WITH FOUR-MINUTE EXECUTION: Every offense prides itself on being able to close out the game when given the chance. The Panthers had the opportunity Sunday, taking over possession with 4:50 remaining in the game.

But Carolina went three-and-out, forcing the defense to hold onto a five-point lead and secure the victory over the final 3:50.

"The biggest thing we have to work on is closing out games," center Ryan Kalil said. "In four-minute, when we get the ball we have to do a better job of converting."

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