After struggling in the first half of 2012, Carolina’s Cam Newton compiled a 94.7 passer rating in the last nine games, completing 143 of 240 passes (59.6 percent) for 1,920 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions.
He also rushed for 397 yards and five touchdowns. The Panthers finished 5-4 in those contests, including winning five of the last six games of the season to finish 7-9.
According to Carolina head coach Ron Rivera, the Panthers got back to basics, simplifying the offense so Newton could play with more freedom.
“We took a lot of things out of our offense,” Rivera said. “We said that we needed to simplify certain things, take some things out of his hands. We need to take some decision-making processes out of his hands at times, and let him just wing it. And he really seemed to play a lot more loose, a lot more natural.”
Rivera also mentioned that other players around Newton stepped up, including receiver Brandon LaFell, tight end Greg Olson and running back DeAngelo Williams.
Veteran receiver Steve Smith added another element to it, saying that former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was using Carolina to audition for a head coaching job.
“It was really a power move of the prior offensive coordinator really positioning himself to kind of show, ‘Hey, I’m capable.’” Smith said. “And I really feel like it was applying for that head coaching job, and I think our offense kind of suffered a little bit because of that. At times we got cute, and we did things that necessarily wasn’t us.”
Chudzinski ultimately got his wish, landing the head coaching job with Cleveland.
Rivera also discussed the challenge that Seattle’s talented secondary presents for opposing offenses.
“The big thing really is the vertical game,” Rivera said. “A lot of people try and get vertical on them, and then those guys are very physical, get their hands on you. And if they do that, they can run with you.
“You’ve got to be able to get separation and be able to make good, crisp cuts. I think also a part of it is because of their front seven, it’s difficult to run the football. They play so much man (coverage), and they play such physical football at the point of attack, that if you’re not running it effectively and allowing them to dictate, they are a tough team to score on.”