From Comcast SportsNetCHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Cam Newton let teammate Greg Hardy handle the trash talk. Newton was busy setting records.Four days after Carolina defensive end Hardy promised "payback" and "punishment" for the Falcons over a loss at Atlanta in September, Newton threw for 287 yards and scored on a 72-yard run in a 30-20 victory.Despite playing without four starters and having 13 players on injured reserve, the struggling Panthers dominated the NFC South champions, just as Hardy said they would. Newton piled up a career-high 116 yards on the ground to become the first player with 250 yards passing, 100 yards rushing, a touchdown run and a TD pass in a game.The Panthers racked up 475 yards overall, avenging that Week 4 loss to Atlanta and snapping a five-game losing streak to their Interstate 85 rivals.Hardy was upset when television cameras caught Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan cursing at the Panthers sideline, telling them to get off the Falcons' field in Atlanta's 30-28 win. Hardy responded by saying last week the Panthers were a "better team" than the Falcons, adding a variety of trash talk.After Sunday's win Hardy turned the tables on the Falcons (11-2), repeating several times what Ryan said 10 weeks ago as he walked off the field. At one point Falcons kicker Matt Bryant returned fire at Hardy, saying, "Watch us in January."Hardy left the locker room before reporters were allowed in.It was Newton's first victory in four tries over his hometown team and he admitted after the game it was a special feeling."I think this game allows me to have a little chip on my shoulder," Newton said.Carolina's defense was superb through 2 quarters, helping build a 23-0 lead and a 356-86 edge in total yards.Carolina (4-9) came in with little to play for except to gain that measure of revenge on Ryan, who downplayed the war of words."I don't pay too much attention to it," said Ryan, who threw for 342 yards and two scores with one interception. "They were better than us today, that's for sure. They came out and played better than us. We're in a position in our season where we've got everything right in front of us, and we need to get back to work and worry about that."Said Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn: "It's tough to say that we're overall better than the Falcons because they're 11-2, but I like Greg's confidence."The Falcons, of course, are headed to the playoffs and Sunday was a speed bump in what has been an outstanding season.However, the loss will certainly be of concern to Falcons fans that have witnessed good teams in the past under coach Mike Smith either fade late in the season or struggle in the playoffs.Smith said he'll use the loss as a "teaching point" and that "we have to play our best football here in the fourth quarter" of the season.It was all Carolina in the first half, beginning with the coin toss.The Panthers hadn't won a coin flip all year until Sunday, causing team captain Jordan Gross to exalt at midfield by thrusting both arms into the air. Including overtime, the Panthers were 0-13 on coin flips."I've never seen people cheering so loud for a coin toss," Gross said with a laugh.Carolina quickly took advantage, taking the opening kickoff and going 77 yards in 11 plays with Greg Olsen making a leaping grab in the back of the end zone for a 7-0 lead.That set the tone for the first half.By the time Graham's Gano's third field goal sailed through the uprights as time expired, the Panthers led 16-0 and had run 45 plays to Atlanta's 13, outgaining the Falcons 270-35.Led by Newton, who had some big runs on third-and-long, including a highlight-reel 14-yarder in which he avoided three tacklers on third-and-11, the Panthers had 15 first downs to Atlanta's two."Our offense today is what I kind of thought it would be all year long," Gross said. "We passed well. We threw the ball. We ran the ball well. We blocked well."Said Panthers coach Ron Rivera said: "This shows what we were capable of. That's the sad part."Carolina didn't let up in the second half.After the Panthers stuffed Atlanta on its first drive, Newton faked a handoff to DeAngelo Williams and raced 72 yards to the end zone, getting an assist from receiver Steve Smith, who took out two would-be tacklers with a big block around the 20. Newton somersaulted into the end zone for a 23-0 lead."I had a lot of practice blocking playing for (former Panthers) coach (John) Fox," Smith said, referring to Fox's tendency to run more than pass it while here in Carolina.Ryan threw two touchdown passes and Michael Turner ran for one, but the Falcons couldn't catch up.The Panthers put it away midway through the fourth quarter. After costly defensive holding penalty on cornerback Dunta Robinson, Williams caught a screen pass from Newton and raced 53 yards for a 30-13 lead.NOTES:The Panthers played without starters wide receiver Brandon LaFell, running back Jonathan Stewart, linebacker James Anderson and safety Charles Godfrey. ... Rivera ended his news conference early after starting to get emotional talking about the comeback of Thomas Davis, who has battled back from three torn ACLs to be a major contributor this season. ... Atlanta had won eight of the past nine games against Carolina before Sunday's loss.
0:43 - Tom Curran, Kayce Smith, and Michael Holley talk about Bill Belichick saying it’s “incomprehensible” that people expect the Patriots to be on the same level as last year at this point in the season.
11:55 - Tom Giles, Kayce Smith, and Michael Holley discuss J.R. Smith’s comments about the Celtics not being a threat to the Cavaliers.
15:38 - Abby Chin, Chris Mannix, and A. Sherrod Blakely join BST from Cleveland to talk about Marcus Smart and the Celtics failing to agree to a contract extension, making him a restricted free agent in July. They also preview Tuesday’s Celtics-Cavaliers season opener.
19:25 - Reports say Alex Cora is the frontrunner for the Red Sox managerial position, but Brad Ausmus interviewed for the position on Monday. Who is the right man for the job? Tom Giles and Michael Holley discuss.
BOSTON – When Brad Stevens took the Boston Celtics job in 2013, he knew what he was getting into.
Yes, the Celtics at that time were rebuilding which usually means years and years of slow but steady progress – if you’re lucky.
And then after maybe a few years of struggling to win games, a breakout season occurs and just like that – you’re back in the playoffs.
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- Celtics may spend a good part of the year playing 'Getting To Know You'
- Tatum may find himself in Celtics' starting lineup on Opening Night
- New-look Celtics know they have still have to 'bring their game'
But here’s the thing with the Celtics.
While most rebuilding teams spend years working their way towards being competitive, Stevens hit the ground running and in just four years, he led the Celtics from being a 25-win team to one that was just three wins away from getting to the NBA Finals.
He has the kind of basketball resume that’s impressive on many levels.
But Stevens knows good isn’t good enough in this town.
“We’re here in Boston,” he said. “Winning is good, but hanging one of those (banners) up is what it’s all about. That’s what makes this such a special franchise.”
And for Stevens, a franchise where the expectations for success under his watch have never been greater than they are now.
Boston only returns one starter (Al Horford) from last year’s squad which advanced to the Eastern Conference finals after having won an East-best 53 games.
However, they added a pair of All-Stars in Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving to join Horford. In addition, they drafted Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft.
Boston also has a slimmed-down Marcus Smart (he lost 20 pounds from a year ago) as well Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier who will both benefit from having another NBA season under their belts.
And while it’s a small sample size and consists of just two teams (Philadelphia and Charlotte), the Celtics breezed their way through the preseason with a flawless 4-0 record which included at least one game in which they did not play their usual starters which shows how impactful their depth may be this season.
That success can only help, especially with a challenging schedule that includes seven of their first 11 games being on the road.
Still, the potential of this Celtics team has never been greater than it is right now since Stevens took over in 2013.
And just like the increased expectations of the team, the same can be said for Stevens who is considered one of the better coaches in the NBA.
Marcus Morris will begin his first season with the Celtics, but had a lot of respect for Stevens well before he was traded to Boston from Detroit this summer.
“You hear a lot of good things about him from other players,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “And once you get in here and start working with him and seeing what he does every day, you see what they’re talking about. He’s a good coach, man.”
This team’s success will hinge on how the players perform, but there’s an added element of pressure on Stevens to find the right combinations that will position the Celtics for success.
“We have a lot more guys who can do a lot more things on the court, so it will be a little more challenging for us to figure out how to best play with each other, and for Brad to figure out which combinations are the best ones,” Boston’s Al Horford told NBC Sports Boston. “But we’ll figure it out. Brad’s a really good coach, a really smart coach. And on our team, we have a lot of players who are smart, high basketball I.Q. guys. We’ll be OK.”
Basketball smarts aside, the Celtics’ success will hinge heavily on how quickly they can bring a roster with 10 new players up to speed quickly.
It’s still early, but players like what they’ve seen from the collective body in terms of team chemistry.
“I think that’s the beauty of a lot of guys on the team,” said Gordon Hayward. “It’ll be different each night with some of the different roles we play.”
Which is why the Celtics, while lacking experience as a team because of so many new faces, are still seen as capable of winning because they have a number of players who can impact the game in many ways.
But as good as they are, it still comes back to Stevens doing a good job of putting them in the best positions to find success individually as well as for the Celtics team.
When you look at how time with Stevens jumpstarted Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder’s careers, or how it helped revitalize the career of Evan Turner, it’s obvious that he has the Midas touch when it comes to getting the most out of players.
For Boston to have the kind of success they believe they are due for, it’s going to take the contributions of many.
And even that might not be enough.
But having the path being bumpier than expected is something Stevens embraces.
“Here in this league,” he said. “You have to love challenges.”