Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers are showing signs of life following a disastrous start to the season.
While wins haven't been easy to come by for the Oakland Raiders, they proved plenty formidable last week.
The Panthers try to win three straight for the first time in three seasons Sunday against the visiting Raiders, who hope to build on their first victory since late October.
Since losing eight of its first 10 games, Carolina (5-9) has looked like a completely different team. The Panthers have averaged 28.0 points and 407.5 yards while taking three of four, committing an NFL-low one turnover since Week 12. They averaged 18.4 points and 1.8 turnovers in their first 10.
Newton's play has had plenty to do with the team's success over the last four weeks. The former Auburn standout has an NFL-best 113.1 passer rating to go with nine touchdowns and no interceptions.
"I could not have done it without my offense, and they could not have done it without me," he told the team's official website. "There are a lot of guys going unnoticed behind the scenes that make this work.
"It is not a one-man team. I think that's what we have learned more as the season has progressed."
With the season winding down, Carolina is hoping to keep things going in its last two games. The Panthers visit New Orleans in Week 17.
"Hopefully, you learn from the past in everything you do," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "For whatever reason we didn't start fast. We have to be able to do that next year, but that's a long ways off. For now we've got an opportunity to make it three in a row."
Carolina is in position to win three in a row for the first time since closing the 2009 season on a three-game run, after beating NFC South-champion Atlanta 30-20 on Dec. 9, and San Diego 31-7 last Sunday. Newton threw for 231 yards and two TDs last week while Mike Tolbert had two rushing scores against his former team. The defense also came up huge, allowing 164 yards - its fewest since 2008.
"The biggest thing is that the guys continue to come to work every week, practice hard and continue to do the things we ask of them," coach Ron Rivera said. "I know we don't have a chance to make the playoffs, but with the way our guys are approaching things, we can keep that momentum going."
It could be imperative to Rivera's future with the Panthers that his team continues its late surge. Carolina owner Jerry Richardson told Rivera following a 1-5 start the team needed to be "trending upward'' the rest of the way for him to keep his job.
The Raiders, like the Panthers, are also coming off a stifling defensive display. Oakland (4-10) had surrendered an average of 35.8 points during a six-game skid before shutting down Kansas City last Sunday, yielding a franchise low-tying 10 rushing yards in a 15-0 win. It was its first victory since beating the Chiefs on Oct. 28, and its first shutout since 2002.
"I think it's important any time you get that opportunity. It's tough to shut anybody out in this league," coach Dennis Allen said. "To get the shutout, to hold the team to 10 yards rushing... I think that was huge for our defense. I think that was a good confidence builder."
While the defense shut down lowly Kansas City, Oakland's offense failed to reach the end zone for the first time since Week 4, settling for a season-high five field goals from Sebastian Janikowski. Darren McFadden carried the ball a career high-tying 30 times for 110 yards and could be in for another big workload Sunday. The Raiders are 4-1 this season when he has at least 18 attempts.
"I think we all saw that when we execute that game plan the way that we feel like we're capable of executing it, we have a chance to win games," Allen said. "I thought we were able to run the ball effectively. ... So that will be a key for us moving forward."
McFadden could have a hard time finding running room against a Panthers defense that's held its last two foes to a combined 105 yards on the ground.
Carolina's DeAngelo Williams, meanwhile, has given opponents fits of late. The veteran back has compiled 256 yards from scrimmage over the last two weeks, hauling in TD receptions in both.
Williams led the way in Carolina's last game against Oakland, a 17-6 win on Nov. 9, 2008, running for 140 yards and a TD.
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