Here is my dilemma...
The Panthers are 1-5 after 7 weeks into the season. Our playoff chances, at this point in time, really are nonexistent. I have a better chance of winning the PowerBall than watching the Panthers in the post season this year. On the other hand, I don't believe we should throw in this season and call it over before it truly is.
What I see are two different sides on two different issues. So how does someone who sees both sides of this debacle find a comfortable medium amongst it all?
Back to Reality
First of all, the future of this season. Let's face it... If you believe the Panthers make the playoffs this year, you're living a delusion. We looked good (not great, but certainly good) against a bad team (and good against a horrid team when Carr was in), but let me try to put things in perspective. Currently, Atlanta is leading our division at 5-2, well ahead of us. I don't think there is a person out there who honestly believes that we will come back and take our Division. That leaves the only hope for Panthers playoffs with a wild card spot, and I gotta be honest... that's not looking any better. We have the Atlanta Falcons leading the NFC across the board at 5-2. Behind them, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers New York Giants* and Seattle Seahawks* are all at 4-2. Then right on their heels are the Saints, Eagles, Redskins, Bears*, and Packers* at 4-3. (* - Including current division leaders for completeness.)
That's a lot of teams we would have to out perform and I just don't see it happening. Not only do we have to out perform, but they have to under perform as well. The longer you look at it the slimmer those odds get. The way things are shaping up, it is looking more and more like it will take a 10-6 record to win a wildcard spot this year and sadly at best I think we are a 7-9 team this year. So even if we do get to 7-9 (or hell, 9-7), what will we have to show for it?
This is where the "winning now" comes into conflict with "winning later."
Now vs. Later
If we can't make the playoffs, what are we playing for? I think that's an honest, legitimate question that we all need to ask ourselves and the only obvious answer that we can come up with is that we're playing for our future. It may not be til week 12 that we are finally "mathematically" eliminated from the play off race, but that doesn't mean our chances are any better until it happens. If we aren't going to make the playoffs, we need to focus on rebuilding. To not do so, I think, would be the biggest way to waste this season away. It would be, as James said, a "happy but useless distraction."
But the focus shouldn't immediately go from now to draft day. I am firmly against tanking the season so that we get a top draft choice. The playoffs may be out of our reach, but that doesn't mean there aren't things to glean yet from this season. If the players simply "go about their business" for the rest of the year without trying, that would be a waste.
Playing for Tomorrow
In both cases, it's more about what we know when we finish than where we are when we get there. I don't believe our W-L record is the most important thing anymore and I don't think that should be our focus moving forward. It certainly won't be mine. While I will be happy with a win, it won't mean anything unless we start to see the makings of future greatness. So on one hand, yesterday was great. We saw LaFell and Gettis step into a much larger role. On the other hand, yetserday rose some questions for me. What happened to our run defense? More specifically, why couldn't we stop a team on the ground when their QB was David Carr?
What I want to see from the Panthers is who is going to be here next year, what roles they are going to have, and what holes we will need to fill so that when draft day comes and when free agency opens up, we're ready to move in the right direction and fully capitalize on the options available. The only way we learn this is through gaining the hard-fighting experience that comes with winning and losing, evaluating why we won or lost, and learning from those mistakes or successes to be better later. This was my primary thoughts behind supporting Clausen. It's not that I believe winning isn't important (in fact, winning never factored in). It was about evaluating him and watching him develop as a player. To that end, we can do the same with Moore now (although he'll probably never get over the stigma of not being able to play with pressure).
This season needs to be about finding out who the Panthers are going to be for the next 5+ years. After Fox is fired. After Smitty has retired. After Kasay is gone. Who will step up and be the next face of the Panthers? To that end, we saw great strides yesterday. I think Gettis is going to develop into a special weapon down the road. I can't help but wonder though if Fox will get the boot when we're mathematically eliminated simply because that would bring an official end to our chances (there's league precedent for that, but I'm not sure Richardson makes the move). I think it really depends more on if Richardson has someone he can bring in immediately or not, so I'm thinking probably no. But at the same time, Fox won't be putting our future ahead of his own.
So you can say I've already thrown in the towel if you want. I disagree. Throwing in the towel would be giving up on the team entirely. Just because winning is no longer what I'm looking for out of my Panthers doesn't mean I've given up on their potential or their future.
And that future is starting to look mighty bright...