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Undefeated Panthers playing as a team

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CHARLOTTE — Even the most optimistic Carolina Panthers fans couldn’t have seen this coming.

The best start in franchise history? After losing receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the preseason, linebacker Luke Kuechly for one month and defensive end Charles Johnson for two? Winning in Seattle and against an Eagles’ offense capable of picking the Panthers apart? There’s no way. But the Panthers have started a season with six straight wins for the first time because they’re playing as a team.

Sunday night against the Eagles, quarterback Cam Newton wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t MVP-worthy. His top target, tight end Greg Olsen, had a modest three receptions.

The Panthers didn’t win thanks to one or two individual performances. They won because a handful of guys made a bunch of plays. Guys like receiver Ted Ginn, who led the Panthers with five receptions and broke off a career-best 43-yard run. Or running back Jonathan Stewart, who had the best night for a rusher against the Eagles in more than a year.

“From the way Stewart was running and just showing that resiliency and through it all, we got guys that are battling injuries and still fighting out there,” Newton said. “That is the mantra of this franchise to keep pounding, and we showed a lot of that.”

Then there was the offensive line, which gave up eight fewer sacks than it did last year in Philadelphia, a defense that made head coach Chip Kelly’s exciting offense look anything but and special teams units that made dangerous returner Darren Sproles a non-factor.

One of the reasons the Panthers haven’t gotten a lot of attention is because they have just two true stars nationally — Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly. But as this season is reminding us, the NFL isn’t like the NBA. Stars don’t win football games in bunches. Teams do.

“(ESPN reporter) Sal Paolantonio said, ‘It’s in the bag,’ right? Well, he can take his bag and go barf in it,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “That’s how I really feel to be honest with it. I think it’s the flavor of the week.

“Everybody continues to doubt our team. As you see, it was a team win again tonight.”

REPORT CARD VS. EAGLES

–PASSING OFFENSE: C. QB Cam Newton was intercepted three times, but only one was truly his fault. Newton tossed a 2-yard touchdown to FB Mike Tolbert and was sacked just once, eight fewer times than he went down in Philadelphia last November.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: A. RB Jonathan Stewart had 125 rushing yards, the first time a running back hit 100 against the Eagles in 19 games and just the second in last 29. Newton and Tolbert each rushed for scores for a Panthers’ offense that is now the No. 1 rushing attack in the league after racking up a total of 204 yards.

–PASS DEFENSE: B. The Panthers sacked Eagles QB Sam Bradford five times and DB Colin Jones had the first interception of his career. Philadelphia wide receivers helped out by dropping numerous passes.

–RUN DEFENSE: D-plus. The Eagles became the third straight opponent to rush for more than 100 yards against the Panthers. Ryan Mathews broke off a career-best 63-yard touchdown while the Eagles totaled 177 yards on the ground.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: A. K Graham Gano made both his field-goal attempts and P Brad Nortman placed three of his four punts inside the 20. Dangerous Darren Sproles picked up two yards on his one return.

–COACHING: B-plus. There was no letdown after the Panthers’ huge Week 6 win at Seattle. Head coach Ron Rivera had his team focused in prime time. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula called another solid game while defensive coordinator Sean McDermott rattled Bradford.


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