With 9:40 left in the first quarter, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton dropped back to pass on first down. Now if Newton expected time and a perfectly formed pocket to complete his NFL passes, then Geno Atkins gladly ruined these expectations Thursday night. It wasn't a swim move, spin or the legendary Reggie White throw. No. Atkins simply locked into guard Mackenzy Bernadeu after firing out of his stance literally drove Bernadeu into the quarterback, who had over 300 pounds of offensive guard pressed against him when attempting his throw.
No room, indeed. Newton badly overthrew Legedu Naanee towards the left sidelines. Even though through disruption the defensive play was great, the Panthers would easily respond with a nice play of their own.
DeAngelo Williams Rushes For 15 Yards... Cam Newton in shotgun with 9:35 left in the first quarter, DeAngelo Williams flanking his right. Brandon LeFell faked an end around, forcing an unblocked Robert Geathers to stall to ensure containment when Williams took the handoff. Center Ryan Kalil blocked down into Atkins, knocking him out of the play. Rey Maualuga, for some reason, sprinted towards the Panthers' left guard who zone blocked left, completely taking himself out of the play which made a running lane that much bigger. Right guard Bernadeau knocked Domata Peko to the turf when the nose tackle attempted to tackle the passing Williams, while Manny Lawson waited for the block from Carolina's right tackle Garry Williams. Safety Reggie Nelson eventually made the tackle after Williams picked up 18 yards on the play.
Yet the Panthers decided to pass again and again, defensive tackle Geno Atkins had a problem with that. Kalil snaps from the Bengals 28-yard line with 8:55 left in the first quarter. Atkins fired out of his three-point stance, locked into Mackenzy Bernadeau and drove the right guard into Cam Newton. When the guard made contact with the quarterback, Newton bailed out of the pocket and scrambled left. Domata Peko ended whatever wet-dream Newton had running with the football by taking out Newton's escape lane. Instead the quarterback got rid of the football just as Atkins wrapped the quarterbacks legs for the takedown.
Due to the pressure that Newton was receiving, Carolina tried moving the quarterback out of the pocket on a naked boot leg to the right. Due to the fake handoff to Williams running to his left, the entire Bengals defensive line, save for Geathers, shifted to their right. Newton easily completed the nine-yard pass to Steve Smith, buried by Chris Crocker.
After Jonathan Stewart picked up four yards on third-and-one, the Panthers wouldn't pick up another first down on the drive.
Combined Defensive Effort Ends With A One-Yard Loss... This of course left a first-and-ten at Cincinnati's 15-yard line with 7:17 left in the first quarter. Running back Jonathan Stewart lined up in the backfield, observing the line of scrimmage, thinking how nice it would be to actually run pass it on the play. The Bengals defense had every intention in knocking the glimmer out of Stewart's eyes (though it would have been nice if they did that on the preceding conversion on third-and-short). Geno Atkins and Domata Peko were victims of the Panthers offensive line blocking down, which opened a massive lane to Stewart's left. Yet they failed to account for linebacker Rey Maualuga, who breached the line of scrimmage, about a yard deep into the backfield when Stewart received the handoff. Maualuga made the first hit on Stewart, attempting to counter left.
Though he didn't make the tackle, Maualuga forced the running back to twist out of the ankle tackle. Defensive end Michael Johnson, after easily shedding fullback Richie Brockel's block, receiving the unbalanced Stewart into his grasp. Yet even he didn't bring Stewart down initially. That would come when a television screen of dreads sprinted in and delivered the blow that knocked Stewart to the turf. A total team effort for the one-yard loss, started by Maualuga's initial hit that forced Stewart off-balanced while Michael Johnson interrupted Stewart's spin, finished by Reggie Nelson's hit that was compounded by Maualuga's recovery and Johnson's embrace to prevent Stewart from going anywhere. I just broke a sweat.
Cam Newton's Touchdown Run... After an incomplete pass to Steve Smith, the Carolina Panthers' were left with a third-and-11 from Cincinnati's 16-yard line and 6:27 remaining in the first quarter. Newton takes the shotgun snap, looks to his right. What he saw was a blissful sight for a quarterback that had one of the best collegiate seasons for a quarterback because of his legs. The left side of the defensive line opened with Jonathan Fanene unable to hold his ground, sealed with an inside block by the right guard. Robert Geathers ran upfield, preventing any chance for that lane to collapse.
Newton exploded through the lane towards the endzone, colliding with Reggie Nelson at the three yard line, twisting around and leaning the football over the goalline for a touchdown.