As we sit here on a Monday after a bye week I'm feeling anxious; the same sort of anxiousness that accompanies the moments preceding the first kick off of a new season. The reason for this is simple, our season starts now. There are scant few fans who wouldn't like a mulligan on the first three games of the season. Not just because we are sitting here 0-3, but because we didn't play Carolina Panther football. It is for this reason I'm now of the mindset that the loss in Arlington was a good thing. Obviously we'd prefer to be 1-2 than 0-3, but without that loss perhaps the players wouldn't have gotten quite the butt kicking they deserve in the bye-week, perhaps without that loss the coaching staff wouldn't know big changes had to be made, without that loss maybe their feet would be slightly out of the fire... and we need some toes to be burning to turn this season around.
I think the most overused phrase in football is ‘must win game'. For the Panthers, we've apparently had two ‘must wins games' against the Falcons and the Cowboys, and we lost them both. From where I sit however, neither were ‘must win games', neither one made us mathematically ineligible to make the playoffs. We can discuss the rarity of 0-3 teams making the playoffs until we're blue in the face, we can crunch every number and we can assume defeat... or, we can look at the 2009 Panthers like our 2003 team. Nobody expected that team to make the Superbowl, nobody thought a team who won seven of their eleven regular season games by less than three points could make any noise in the playoffs, yet we did.
I'm not comparing the talent in '03 to now, they are entirely different teams. What I am saying, however, is that if any fan base should be expecting their team to buck the trend, it's us. As we approach the Washington game this week we are sure to hear again about how this is a ‘must win game' and how our season will be over without a win. Ultimately though, Sunday's game has far greater implications than a win or a loss, or the 2009 season as a whole. I characterize the game against the Redskins not as a ‘must win' but as a ‘must improve'. The fact is, if the team has not used the bye week as a gut check at every level, and we return to the form we displayed in the second half against the Cowboys, then not only is this season done, this era is done. This is the week for the coaching staff to show they can return this team to playing Foxball, Carolina Panther football, Cardiac cats ball... call it what you may, but if the Panthers can't show us this week that any kind of improvement has been made, then prepare yourselves Panther fans, because we will be witnessing the end of the John Fox era.
Thankfully though, I still have faith. I don't think we're going to see that second half Dallas team in Charlotte on Sunday. I think we'll see a return to what we do best; running the ball, controlling the clock, letting our all-pro WR shine, and choking the opposing offense with defense speed. I know as the week goes on CSR will deliver all the fantastic lead up to Sunday's game, breaking down each and every aspect of the contest, so I'll leave that writing up to more apt hands. What I will do, however, it look at a few key areas and let you know if I'm optimistic, or pessimistic about our chances.
- Our Running Game: Washington allowed 4.8 ypc from Cadillac Williams yesterday, and Tampa's Williams is not our Williams... DeAngelo and J-Stew should be able to have a big day (provided they get the ball). - Extremely Optimistic
- Washington's Offense: From a scoring perspective, they've been dismal. Their season average in scoring is 14 points. When our defense can hold Dallas and Atlanta below their season average in points... so provided we can do the same to Washington we'll be in good shape. - Extremely optimistic
- Their Running Game: Clinton Portis has only managed 3.9 ypc this season against porous run defenses Detroit, St. Louis and Tampa Bay. If he can only put up similar numbers against us we should be in good shape. - Somewhat optimistic
- Chris Cooley: For the third game in a row we face one of the league's elite tight ends. We have been unsuccessful in stopping TE's this season, and Cooley is a big time target for Campbell. - Somewhat pessimistic.
70% optimistic heading back into BoA against the Redskins. Our season starts now, and I think finally we get the monkey off our back.