QB Jimmy Clausen (Streeter Lecka/Getty)
Jimmy Clausen earned his first win as a starting quarterback and, ironically, it did not even affect Carolina's ability to draft Andrew Luck. For the first time in a long while, things broke the Panthers' way as they stopped the Arizona Cardinals, 19-12.
It wasn't a pretty game, but it was John Fox ball at its best. Jonathan Stewart ran for a season-high 137 yards; Jimmy Clausen found Jeff King for his first TD pass since Oct. 3; and the defense recorded two takeaways and three sacks in the victory.
Carolina got off to a fast start, scoring field goals on its first two possessions. That 6-0 lead held up until midway through the second quarter when Sherrod Martin picked off rookie QB John Skelton and returned the ball to the Arizona 16-yard line. One play later, Clausen found King on a backside screen. The outcome was never in doubt from that point forward.
The Panthers benefited from a slew of Arizona mistakes. From dropped passes to a botched onside kick to a roughing-the-kicker penalty, Arizona looked like it was the team competing for the No. 1 overall draft pick. Instead, the Panthers won the game and stayed in line to win the draft's big prize thanks to the Cincinnati Bengals' 19-17 win over the Cleveland Browns.
While fans look forward to the draft, it is clear the Panthers are still focused on the final games of the 2010 season. That is especially true on defense, where Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy and Nic Harris each recorded sacks.
Johnson's sack gives him 9.5 on the season, just a half-sack away from double digits. Hardy's sack resulted in a fumble picked up by Tyler Brayton.
Other defenders made key plays. Jon Beason made a diving pass-breakup to get the defense off the field. Also, Brayton batted down a ball at the line of scrimmage late in the first half to force the Cardinals to settle for a chip-shot field goal.
In Carolina's most complete game of the season, the Panthers won time of possession by almost exactly 14 minutes. They racked up more than 300 yards of total offense and scored 19 points or more for just the third time this season.
In Coach Fox's final game leading the home team in Bank of America Stadium, his Panthers sent him off in style.
--Rookie receivers Brandon LaFell and David Gettis each finished with three grabs, mostly on lateral throws as offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson was more proactive in protecting Clausen.
--Captain Munnerlyn ripped off a 26-yard punt return in the third quarter to set up John Kasay's third field goal, this one from 43 yards. Munnerlyn also led the team with seven tackles.
--The Panthers are 2-2 against the NFC West and 0-10 against the rest of the NFL.
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Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and also a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. You can see more of his updates by following him on Twitter.