Panthers show future can be bright without Josh Norman

carolina-panthers-logo_472x303.jpgLANDOVER, Md. — The Carolina Panthers didn’t let Washington Redskinscornerback Josh Norman beat them on Monday night in front of a national television audience.

Even bigger, they didn’t beat themselves as they have so often this season.

The 26-15 victory at FedEx Field was further evidence the Panthers have gotten past the short-term impact of losing Norman, who signed with the Redskins after Carolina rescinded his franchise tag in April.

A disastrous 1-5 start all but ended the defending NFC champions’ chances of returning to the playoffs before midseason, but rookie cornerbacks James Bradberry and Daryl Worley continue to trend upward.

It’s a little late for the Panthers (6-8), who would need things to go right in 10 games over the next two weeks to make the playoffs. That includes Washington (7-6-1) finishing with a loss and a tie, and there’s a 1 percent chance a team ties.

A Carolina secondary that gave up 21 pass plays of 20-plus yards during that 1-5 start again showed the long-term benefits of not keeping Norman might prove significant in terms of salary-cap savings.

Norman would have counted $13.95 million against the cap this year. He wanted a deal similar to the five-year, $75 million he got from Washington.

Bradberry and Worley will count close to $8 million combined over four years.

That’s a lot of cap space for general manager Dave Gettleman to upgrade the injury-plagued offensive line and perhaps add an edge rusher.

Gettleman still doesn’t get a pass for rescinding the offer on Norman, which in hindsight was the biggest factor in Carolina’s letdown following a trip to the Super Bowl.

But as Bradberry and Worley showed in helping make Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins look average in what has been a potential Pro Bowl season, the future looks bright.

Norman’s biggest moment in this one came in the third quarter when Carolina quarterback Cam Newton challenged him on a deep pass to Ted Ginn Jr.

You knew it would eventually happen as both players admitted earlier in the week their egos would force the issue.

Norman went up for the ball at the goal line, but couldn’t come down with it.

Otherwise, Carolina’s 2012 fifth-round pick wasn’t much of a factor. Newton successfully went after him twice in the first quarter, completing a 18-yard pass to Ginn and a 10-yarder to Kelvin Benjamin.

But this was about much more than the Panthers versus Norman despite all the pregame hype. It was about setting the stage for 2017 and beyond for a team that continues to play without middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.

The three-time Pro Bowl selection missed his fourth consecutive game with a concussion and likely won’t play the rest of the season with the playoffs basically out of the equation.

But add a healthy Kuechly to the defense next season with a secondary that has matured over the past two months and this unit has chance to return to the top-10 status it held the past three years.

Maybe top five.

Say what you want about Newton and an offense that led the league in scoring a year ago, this team has been built around defense and will continue to be as long as Ron Rivera is the head coach.

Perhaps now Carolina can fully move on from Norman.