I'm going to come out and admit this right off the bat. Three weeks ago, I had mentally clocked out on this team. I hate to admit that. I love my Panthers, and I watch their games every week without fail. Ever since I first moved up from Florida to South Carolina, I've fallen in love with this sport and this football team. I love their philosophy. I love Bank of America stadium. Jerry Richardson is one of the most stand up, successful guys in the world today both in business and football, and anyone that challenges otherwise is either drunk or stupid, possibly both.
I love everything about the Panthers. And as such, I'll be one of the first people to admit that this has been a weird season. Just think about this for a second. We started out the season sputtering in all three areas of the game. Literally the only thing working at the beginning of the year was our running game, and even that facet of our team wasn't being utilized efficiently. I'm going to post a link to an article on Panthers Growl right here written after an 0-3 start, and tell me if we at all expected the Panthers to be this good at the end of the season.
Just look at us now.
Julius Peppers is playing lights out under a recharged defense. We've lost Thomas Davis, Na'il Diggs, and countless defensive tackles to the dreaded bench, but the unit don't seem to care at all. For weeks on end our defense has been flying around like a freight train on crack, destroying everything that stands in their way. Opposing QB's are under all sorts of pressure, and our defense is generating an important statistic that they didn't have too much of last year: Turnovers. Our Panthers only managed 12 interceptions last year, and so far the Panthers have 21. We've also forced 20 fumbles, up by three from 17 last year.
And don't forget, this is compared to a Panthers team that went 12-4 last year. It's amazing to think that our defense this year is even better than they were the year before. Ron Meeks has done a fantastic job, and I look forward to seeing what additional terrors he builds into our team in 2010.
Also, let's not forget how the addition of Matt Moore has changed our team. Unless you're living in a hole the last few weeks, you'd know the Panthers are 2-1 with him in the starting lineup playing against playoff teams. Watching him perform reminds me a whole lot of Ben Rothelsburger in the way that he extends a broken play. Jake Delhomme has always been a pocket passer, and as a fan base we've grown used to having a passer like that. Having a QB like Matt Moore add a new layer of production to that position is a pleasant change, and it's exactly what we needed to have in order for our offense to catch fire and be successful.
I'm going to go on record though and say that the success the last few weeks should in no way be attributed to our offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson. As well as we've done, Jeff royally screwed us over far too many times for me to ever truly forgive him. We could go into next season, go 16-0, and in the back of my mind I'd still be angry at Jeff for trying to pound a round peg into a square hole for almost the entire season in 09.
Here are four games I believe that the Panther should have won. Dallas, Buffalo, Miami, and New York. In all four of these games, the Panthers would not fully commit to the run. Jake threw a combined 10 interceptions opposed to 2 touchdowns, and he had the vast majorities of the snaps on offense. This is where Jeff Davidson failed us. Again and again, he continued to pretend that he had a Peytan Manning operating at the QB position, and continued to call passing plays despite what common sense said would happen on the field. Call it pride. Call it stupidity. Call it whatever you want. Jeff Davidson deserves the full brunt of blame for us not making the playoffs, and I will argue with anyone that says otherwise.
While our defense broke their reputation of being "The Worst Tackling Team in all of football" and became a top 10 unit, our offense simply sat there and did nothing to improve itself. We ignored the obvious problem on offense for far too long, and neither fixed it nor minimized the problem. That is the biggest reason we are not in the playoffs right now, and that is the story of the 09 season.
With that said, I look forward to 2010. We'll have an easier schedule. We'll have two of the best running backs in the NFL. We'll have a new QB with very little film on him in Matt Moore We'll have one of the most dominant receivers in the game in Steve Smith who'll be pretty pissed off at the media telling him that he can't play in the NFL because of his broken arm and supposed 'declining speed'. We'll have one of the deepest linebacker corps in the league, a rejuvenated defensive line led by Julius Peppers ((provided he resigns)) and Everette Brown. We'll have a powerful woodlayer in the backfield in our very own Chris Harris at SS and a quick, stealthy ballhawk in Sherrod Martin at FS. Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall will be back, and they've been a big reason why QB's have to hold onto the ball for so long.
It's a pain in the rear to miss the playoffs this year, but we'll be back. Mark my words, we WILL be back. We just need a little time. A little patience. Our Carolina Panthers will be a brand new team next year. Then, only then will the NFL realize the wrath of a kitty scorned. We do what we want, when we want to do it. And the NFL? They'll just be forced to sit around and watch as we claim our Lombardi Trophy.