This is the same Cam Newton who had thrown for 300-plus yards just twice in the first 10 games. The same Cam Newton who came into Monday night's game ranked 26th in the league in passing. The same Cam Newton who had thrown more interceptions (10) than touchdown passes (9).
In the five games since Bowles took charge of the defense, opposing quarterbacks have a combined 139.9 passer rating. They've completed 75.2 percent of their passes. They've averaged 9.7 yards per attempt.
And they've thrown 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions.
In the six games with Castillo running the defense, opposing QBs had a 69.4 passer rating. They completed just 52.6 percent of their passes and averaged only 6.2 yards per attempt.
And they threw just six TD passes and seven interceptions.
In those first six games, the miscommunications and mental screwups by the secondary were minimal. They seemed to get most of them out of the way last year. But since Bowles took over, these guys have looked like the freaking Keystone Kops.
The Eagles' pass defense on third down under Bowles has been worse than on first and second down. In the last five games, opposing quarterbacks have a 146.8 third-down passer rating. They've completed 73 percent of their passes and have averaged 10.6 yards per attempt on third down. They've thrown five touchdown passes and no interceptions.
In the first six games under Castillo, opposing QBs had a 69.3 third-down passer rating, a 47.7 completion percentage and averaged only 4.8 yards per attempt. They had four touchdown passes and two interceptions on third down.
Monday night, Newton completed just 4 of 8 third-down passes for 48 yards. But one of those completions went for a touchdown. He also ran for first downs on third-and-7 and third-and-12.
In front of a national television audience, Bowles' secondary embarrassed itself on Newton's two first-quarter touchdown passes to tight end Gary Barnidge and wide receiver Brandon LaFell. In both instances, they basically left receivers uncovered.
Let's quickly review both plays.
* The 24-yard scoring pass to Barnidge: The Panthers lined up in a two-tight end set with both Barnidge and Greg Olsen on the left side and LaFell split to the right.
LaFell, who was covered by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, faked an in route and went up the field. Newton looked toward LaFell, which was enough to get gullible deep safety Kurt Coleman to slide toward LaFell's side of the field. On the other side, Olsen ran toward the sideline, taking the Eagles' other corner, Nnamdi Asomugha, with him. Barnidge, who ran a seam route straight up the field, should've been Coleman's responsibility. But because he had been fooled by Newton, Coleman couldn't get back over to cover Barnidge, who scored easily.
* The 43-yard scoring pass to LaFell: This one was even uglier. LaFell lined up in the left slot in a three-wide receiver set. Brandon Boykin, the Eagles' rookie nickel corner, was lined up on him. But when the ball was snapped, he left LaFell and came on a blitz. On the other side, Coleman also came on a blitz. Andy Reid admitted Monday that only one of them was supposed to blitz and the other was supposed to stay in coverage. When Coleman blitzed, the other safety, Nate Allen, slid over to that side of the field, even though he should have been able to see that, with Boykin also going after Newton, there was no one left to pick up LaFell. Newton had an easy throw to a wide-open LaFell, particularly since neither Boykin nor Coleman got to him.
There was yet another miscommunication on the final play of the third quarter, a 19-yard completion to LaFell. LaFell lined up wide left with Steve Smith in the slot. Rodgers-Cromartie initially lined up on LaFell and Asomugha was on Smith. Smith ran a corner route, while LaFell stayed at the line of scrimmage. Asomugha let Smith go, but turned inside rather than toward LaFell. Rodgers-Cromartie, meanwhile, left LaFell and followed Smith, who also drew coverage from Coleman. That left no one on LaFell. Newton dumped the ball off to him and he ran for a big gain that set up the Graham Gano field goal that put Carolina up for good.
The rookie QB
Nick Foles' 76.1 completion percentage (16-for-21) was more impressive than his actual performance. He made some nice throws – a 19-yard square-in to Jeremy Maclin and a 15-yard seam pass to Brent Celek on the Eagles' first possession, as well as a nice 12-yarder to Maclin on an out route in the third quarter on a scoring drive. He also made a nice audible call in the fourth quarter, reading a safety blitz off the strong side and switching to a weakside run. Bryce Brown gained 24 yards on the play.
But Foles had no fewer than three passes that should have been interceptions were it not for the cement hands of Panthers safety Sherrod Martin and cornerback Josh Norman. And he needs a lot of work with his footwork and mechanics.