A Teddy Bridgewater-Joe Brady combo could have Panthers competing in NFC

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will get much-deserved credit for his performance in Sunday's 31-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

But don't forget about Joe Brady.

What the NFL's youngest offensive coordinator has done at 30, particularly since star running back Christian McCaffrey was lost 4-to-6 weeks with an ankle injury, has been as impressive as the turnaround by the defense.

And the defensive turnaround has been impressive the past two weeks since figuring out how to pressure the quarterback.

The combination of an offense that stresses opposing defenses with a defense stressing opposing offenses has helped Carolina (2-2) win two straight and could make them a factor in the NFC.

Brady was somewhat of an unknown coming into the season because of his age and inexperience. He was criticized for a late fourth-and-1 call in the opening loss to Las Vegas with the Panthers driving for a potential winning touchdown.

Since then he's gotten into a groove with his playcalling, particularly the past two weeks with McCaffrey out. He's put Bridgewater and his supporting cast in position to make easy plays in much the same way he did at LSU last season as the pass-game coordinator for the national champions.

None were easier than a second-quarter touchdown pass to running back Reggie Bonnafon and third-quarter touchdown pass to tight end Ian Thomas.

On both, Brady had Bridgewater roll right while much of the motion went left and the receivers were at least 5 yards from the nearest defender.

That Bridgewater is proficient at running the offense that he worked with Brady on at New Orleans in 2018 helps.

Bridgewater even showed a little Cam Newton-like flair in the running game with an 18-yard touchdown run in which he juked one defender just past the line of scrimmage and ran through two more near the goal line.

But the Panthers didn't bring Bridgewater in to be Newton. They brought him in to run Brady's offense, which he did to near perfection on this day.

QB breakdown: Bridgewater had by far his most impressive game, completing 26 of 37 pass attempts for 276 yards and two touchdowns. His one rushing touchdown was his first since 2018 at Minnesota. His only real mistake came on a first-half interception that led to an Arizona touchdown.

Buy/sell Carolina defense: Buy. It looked shaky the first two weeks with a league-low six pressures, but has become a formidable group the past two weeks, and pressure is the reason. Adding Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kawann Short after a two-week absence with a foot injury has freed up the edge rush. Brian Burns and rookie Yetur Gross-Matos created havoc from the outside against the Cardinals. Gross-Matos' strip sack in the second half was key while the game remained close.