What I Liked
Old Cam: He's back, baby! Cam Newton is once again a dual-threat quarterback as he completed 29 of 46 for 284 yards and two touchdowns while rushing 17 times for 107 yards and another touchdown. It certainly is a sight for sore eyes, and a timely return as the Panthers prepare for the toughest stretch of their schedule. The one thing I noticed with Cam that still could use a little work is his sliding. A few times he didn't go down very smoothly, and that's something he's going to want to work on to avoid getting injured again. Other than that, though, it was a great thing to watch. You could tell just how much Cam impacts the chemistry of the offense, as they were able to string together a few very, very, good drives the likes of which we hadn't seen all year. Heck, even the offensive line looked halfway decent.
What I Didn't
Poor Execution: Well, this isn't good. Just as the offense is finally getting themselves together, it looks like the defense is sliding down. Watching this game, I saw missed tackles, sloppy coverage, and overall poor execution by the Panthers defense. At least two missed tackles turned what should have been a six or seven yard gain into an 89-yard touchdown run by Giovani Bernard, and I counted quite a few times when Andy Dalton should have been sacked yet was able to get a pass off. Maybe that's just a testament to his playmaking ability, or maybe the D line simply needs to do a better job of finishing plays. Oh, and don't even get me started on the number of times the secondary allowed big completions to some perfectly containable receivers. Don't get me wrong, Mohamed Sanu and Jermaine Gresham are both good players, but these guys made them look like Pro Bowlers.
Choking (kind of): I wouldn't call this a textbook choke by the Panthers (it was anything but textbook), but they definitely should have won this game. There were less than five minutes to go, they had just gone up by seven, and all the defense had to do was force a quick three-and-out so the offense could run out the clock. But they didn't even get that far, as the kickoff team allowed a 97-yard return by Adam "Pacman" Jones, and the fired-up Bengals scored a touchdown on the very next play. Now it was back to the offense, but before we could even blink Cam Newton picked the worst possible time to throw an interception. Within a span of about a minute and thirty seconds game time, the Panthers had gone from trying to close out the game with a seven point lead to trying not to lose the game on a last minute touchdown. Thankfully, the defense stepped up and held Cincinnati to a field goal, although they did get a huge break when a Jeremy Hill touchdown run was called back by a holding penalty. The offense also stepped up when it counted, stringing together a nice drive to kick the game-tying field goal with no time remaining. In overtime, the defense again allowed the Bengals to march down the field and score, as they were able to convert on two third downs and gained positive yardage on all but the last two plays. On offense, the Panthers were once again saved by a penalty that turned what would have been a fourth down into a first down. They would tie the game six plays later, but not before Jerricho Cotchery, who made a living with the Steelers on plays like these, dropped a game-winning touchdown. The man had the football in his hands and he dropped it. I guess he left his red zone proficiency in Pittsburgh. Anyway, the Bengals got the ball back at their own 20, and the defense slowly but surely allowed them to take it all the way to the Panthers 18 (with help from a very stupid roughing the passer penalty on Charles Johnson), where Mike Nugent shanked wide right what should have been a game-winning field goal. So, yes, you might say the Bengals choked, but the Panthers also choked because the defense had two chances to close the game out but allowed the Bengals to put together scoring drives. And Cotchery dropped a game-winning catch. Yeah, ties are weird.
The Tipping Point
Pacman Jones' 97-yard kickoff return: Like I just said, the Panthers were up by seven with less than five minutes to go, and another blunder by special teams gave their opponents new life. The Bengals scored on the next play and even took the lead with just over two minutes remaining. Had they not allowed this return, I'm quite sure the Panthers would have won, plain and simple. This is also the second time this season that Carolina's special teams have made The Tipping Point for the wrong reasons (VS Pittsburgh). While there's never a guarantee that they'll even see the field more than twice in a game, these guys are still some of the most important players on the team. Why else would they called special teams?
TCSB Game MVP
Cam Newton: I know I already said this, but it feels so good I've gotta say it twice: Superman has returned. Cam Newton is back. The Cam we saw in the first five games had been reduced to a hollow shell of his old self by surgery. He could still play, yes, but it just wasn't the same. He was making the throws, but they just didn't have the same flair. Rarely did he ever leave the pocket, and when he did, he (understandably) avoided hits. Superman, it seemed, was no more. Cam Newton had become, for lack of a better word, boring, and it was almost disheartening to watch. The team as a whole seemed to soak in this lack of panache, and it showed. But this game was different. This game saw the return of Old Cam, and the rejuvenation of the Panthers offense. He threw, he dodged, he even trucked a few times, and boy was it something to see. When he ran for his first touchdown of the season late in the third quarter, there was almost a sense of relief among the Panthers faithful. Now that Cam Newton is truly back, there's no limit to what this offense can do, and it makes matchups against teams like Seattle that much more enticing.