Panthers Thoughts – Week Four: Season Over

My thoughts on the Carolina Panthers week four heartbreaking loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

I hate to overreact, but after this weeks loss to the Atlanta Falcons, I’m not really sure it’s an overreaction to say that the season is over for the Carolina Panthers. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they’ll come back strong, make a playoff push, and salvage something. I wouldn’t count on it though.

Here’s all you need to know about the end of the Panthers/Falcons game: The Falcons were down 1. There was 59 seconds left. They had no timeouts. And they had to start from their own 1 yard line. They still won.

On the first play of the drive, Matt Ryan threw a jump ball 60 yards and Roddy White came down with it as Haruki Nakamura misjudged the ball and Josh Norman was beat. Why Captain Munnerlynn or Chris Gamble wasn’t covering White, who had been the best Falcons receiver all game by a long shot, is beyond me. Why the Panthers were playing man with safety help and not just dropping eight back, taking away everything deep, and giving them anything short is beyond me. I honestly don’t know what happened on that play and I’m not inside enough to know whose fault it was, all I know is that it was a play that never should’ve happened and yet it led to a crushing defeat. From there, Ryan made short and safe throws to move his team into easy field goal position, and Matt Bryant did the rest.

Now I could blame Cam Newton for this loss, because I know others will. After all, it was Newton who fumbled the ball on third down after picking up the first, which led to the punt. That’s right, on a QB keeper, Newton had the first down to end the game, but he lost the ball, and even though the Panthers recovered, it went back a yard, just shy of the first down marker, and the Panthers had to punt. If Newton holds on to the ball, the game is over. So obviously this loss in on him.

Honestly, if anyone puts this loss on Newton, they’re just looking for a reason to hate on him. Yes, it would’ve been nice if he held on to the ball, but the defense had the Falcons on their own 1 yard line with 59 seconds left in the game and somehow managed to give up 77 yards. That doesn’t happen to a competent defense.

It’s a real shame too because the defense, against the defensive line, played their best football all season. Granted they still couldn’t stop the run, but a lot of that was due to poor tackling by the linebackers. For the first time all season, the defensive line pressured the quarterback. They got to Ryan for seven sacks and pressured him a number of times. Charles Johnson in particular had an outstanding game, proving that he can be a top defensive end in the league when he’s on his game. Luke Keuchly was also all over the place once again, and he’d probably win defensive rookie of the year if he wasn’t on such a bad defense.

This secondary is absolute trash though. And it baffles me how this wasn’t addressed in the off-season. It’s not like it was a good secondary last year that has regressed. It was a bad secondary last year and it hasn’t gotten any better. The addition of Nakamura was supposed to help, and he did have an interception in this game, but he was also beat on a TD and the main culprit on the 60 yard gain in the final minute. Norman is a rookie starting at CB, which sounds fine until you realize that we was a fifth round pick from Coastal Carolina. Maybe Norman will turn into a good corner, I actually think he will because he’s made some good plays for the team this season, but he’s definitely not ready to be a starter in this league. Now it’s possible that the Panthers were looking at Janoris Jenkins, who was taken one spot before the Panthers picked, and when he went off the board they decided to wait. Or maybe their plan was just to suck defensively again this year, end up with another top 15 pick, and take the best corner available in this upcoming draft. I don’t know their plan, I just know that it’s frustrating knowing that every time the ball comes out of the opposing quarterbacks hand, it’s likely going to be complete.

Offensively, the team played a very good game. As always for the Panthers, the key for the offense to be successful is for Cam to take care of the ball, and that’s exactly what he did in this game. He made smart, safe throws, and was quick with his decisions. After being criticized last week for sulking on the bench, he was extremely animated and lively and had command of the offense. He played good enough to win the game for his team, his defense, as has been the case often during his time in Carolina, let him down.

My only advice to Cam moving forward is to get over these losses. He’s a player who takes losing very hard, and unfortunately for him and Panthers fans, losing is going to happen often. It’s not always on him and there’s nothing he can do about a defense that fails to knock down a 60 yard jump ball. I love Cam Newton and his passion, but maybe he’s too passionate. Maybe he cares too much. There’s that scene in Fever Pitch where Jimmy Fallon and his friends are sulking over a Red Sox loss, then they look over and see Red Sox players casually eating and laughing. Unfortunately Cam is acting like one of Fallon’s friends. A quarterback has to have a short memory. Cam needs to do a better job putting these losses out of his head and moving on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure this “winning is everything” attitude is a reason why he’s been successful in his football career, but again, it’s not always his fault. I like that he takes the blame and never throws his teammates under the bus, but he needs to stop believing it when he says it.

And as much as I love Steve Smith, he can’t publicly call out his quarterback and then fumble the ball the first time he touches it. Smith is unquestionably the leader of this team, especially on offense, and that turnover only led to three points, but it’s something that just can’t happen after you speak up the way he did and it becomes a big issue in the media. Smith also had a catch taken away when he failed to his his second foot in bounds. That’s a play that Smith usually makes and the fact that he didn’t forced the team to punt. These are things that aren’t a big deal on a normal week, but this past week wasn’t normal for the Panthers, especially for Newton and Smith.

The Panthers did a lot of great things in this game. They finally prevented a team from scoring on their opening drive, they scored on their opening drive, they pressured the quarterback, they ran for nearly 200 yards as a team, Cam didn’t turn the ball over, etc…. They should’ve won this game. But they didn’t, further proving that this team is at least a year away from challenging for a playoff spot.

I really hope this loss doesn’t crush the team for the rest of the season. Their confidence was low heading into this game following the terrible loss to the New York Giants, it was likely at an all-time high with one minute remaining in the game, and then it reached an all-time low just a minute of playing time later. Next week they play Seattle in Charlotte. Usually when a team has to travel cross country, they don’t play their best football. It’s a winnable game for the team and given the circumstances, it’s a must-win for the team. Maybe it doesn’t save the season, but it at least saves their mentality.

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