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Mike Tolbert's 'bowling ball' moment defines the undefeated Panthers

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Why are the Panthers so good? (0:49)

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Quarterback Cam Newton faked the handoff to running back Jonathan Stewart on second-and-goal from the 2 Sunday night, then floated a pass to Mike Tolbert in the right flat.

Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins hit the 5-foot-9, 245-pound fullback square in the hips, knocking him back to the 5, but Tolbert didn't go down.

He squared his hips and made cornerback Byron Maxwell miss. He then lowered his shoulders and carried two more defenders with him over the pylon for a touchdown.

This play early in the second half of a 27-16 victory over the Eagles epitomized why the Carolina Panthers are off to a 6-0 start for the first time in franchise history.

They refuse to be stopped when somebody tries to knock them down.

They are resilient.

They, in the words of the late Carolina linebacker Sam Mills, "keep pounding."

"Just find a way," tight end Greg Olsen said when comparing Tolbert's play to Carolina's season. "Just find a way to get it done. It doesn't always have to be pretty. We've got a lot of guys that can contribute, and tonight is a perfect example."

This one wasn't pretty. Newton had arguably his worst performance of the season with three interceptions, although two could be blamed on his receivers.

The defense uncharacteristically gave up 177 yards rushing, almost twice what opponents averaged in the first five games.

But players such as Tolbert and Stewart picked up the slack on a night when Newton didn't look like the MVP candidate he was being touted as a week ago.

Tolbert also rushed for a touchdown. Stewart carried 24 times for 125 yards against a Philadelphia defense that has been stingy against the run.

And the defense bent but broke only once, on a 63-yard touchdown run by Ryan Mathews. The rest of the Eagles' points came on field goals, including one right before the half after a Newton interception when the quarterback had a chance to blow this one open.

"That's the mantra of this whole franchise," Newton said. "Keep pounding, and we showed a lot of that tonight."

No play showed that more to a national audience wondering what this team is all about than Tolbert's catch and run.

"Resilience," cornerback Josh Norman said. "The dude has a motor, like he don't stop. He's got to keep pounding. And when you keep pounding regardless of any adversary that comes your way, just throw them off and go to the next one ... that's what Big Mike did."

That's what the Panthers have done. They throw off a bad play and move on to the next one. They throw off the exhilaration of a win and move on to the next one.

They aren't caught up in all the noise that is beginning to grow nationally around their success. They stay in the moment. They'll be focused on the Monday night game against Indianapolis before the end of today.

"We didn't play our best brand of football tonight," Newton said. "Myself throwing three interceptions, that's just a lackluster performance of protecting the ball.

"We're just playing great team ball."

Olsen said games like this will only make the Panthers better.

"If you have to play your A-plus game every week to give yourself a chance to win, it's going to be a long season," he said. "For us to be able to win and say, 'We've got to do better. We've got to clean this up. Turnovers. Missed blocks' -- that's the sign of a good team."

Again, no play defined what the Panthers have become better than the one by an eighth-year player out of Coastal Carolina known to his teammates as Bowling Ball, among other things.

You could tell that coach Ron Rivera appreciated it. Long after he'd wrapped up his postgame news conference, Rivera went to the locker room to give Tolbert a big hug.

"Nonstop fight," Tolbert said. "Keep pounding, regardless of the circumstances, we keep pounding. ... We're just trying to get a win and keep pounding."