Carolina just played a holiday gift of a half for its fans here in Houston -- the Panthers lead, 21-0, at Reliant Stadium over the playoff-bound Houston Texans.
It has been a startling half, with the Panthers scoring three times (on a 26-yard pass to Steve Smith, a shorter pass to Jeremy Shockey and a hidden-ball trick run by H-back Richie Brockel) and Houston getting shut out.
While the Panthers' offense has been huge, the defensive shutout has to be the biggest surprise so far. Carolina forced a turnover on the second play from scrimmage -- a fumble James Anderson recovered -- and got an interception from Jordan Senn to snuff a Houston drive. They have forced Texans rookie T.J. Yates to look very much like a rookie thus far.
While Newton's two passing TDs were good stuff, the takeaway from this game has already occurred -- Brockel's 7-yard run on the trick play. The Panther linemen all stood up on the play to block what was happening, as Newton took a shotgun snap and slipped the ball between Brockel's legs before faking as if he were running an option to the right.
Then Brockel went left and, behind good blocking, scored untouched. It was perfectly executed and undoubtedly lifted offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski's stock.