Last week I talked about keeping expectations measured, and understanding that the journey is more important that each week's result. At times we stay composed, but the mood after yesterday's game could be summed up in one world... petulant.
I understand close losses hurt, trust me I really do, and I understand how frustrating it is to feel like the Panthers are robbed by a few bad plays here and there, but the fact is we're not getting robbed, we're not cosmically getting screwed by the football gods... we're just not a very good football team, not yet. When it's all said and done good teams find ways to win games and bad teams find way to lose them, right now we're the latter. The sooner the fan base accepts that and moves on we can get past the sting of 'moral victories', and looking for someone else to blame each week. I see people pointing the finger at Ron Rivera for calling a timeout to end the half, and yes it was a mistake, but if your team isn't good enough to overcome a single field goal in an entire half of football then you don't deserve to win, it's as simple as that.
Yesterday's game did amount to a few pivotal moments that stand out in everyone's mind, but we lost because of failed execution. How can you win when you allow 12/17 on 3rd down, or manage to get almost no pressure from your defensive ends? How can you win when you're causing stupid penalties and getting the team pushed back? How can you win when you're only controlling the ball for 25 minutes of a game? You can't.
More after the jump
Errors in execution are to be expected, it's just part of this process. Ultimately, we've been spoiled immensely by having this team play close as they have so far. The staff are installing an extremely complicated offense, and on the other side of the ball McDermott is installing some very complex Jimmy Johnson blitz packages that veterans took years to understand. We see the failed execution of these plans on both sides of the ball; a WR and QB being off of the same page on passes that sail away from the receiver, defensive backs who leave a man to cover and outlet route because they're confused, a linebacker shooting the gap instead of dropping back to cover the TE... these are the mistakes we saw yesterday against the Saints. So while it's easy to blame a coaching staff, and it's easy to blame the players the reality is both screwed up... the players aren't executing right, and the coordinators may be giving the team more than they can chew. Unfortunately this is going to be the case for a while.
While we shouldn't accept losses and cherish moral victories, we also shouldn't take this as hard as Cam Newton. So instead of being disraught at a loss let's look at the positives. If you had told me we'd enter 2011 and in the first 5 weeks play the Superbowl Champion, and two NFC playoff teams and lose by a combined 15 pts I would be thrilled, so why not be thrilled now? We're showing that the 2-14 is an anomaly, and the team that routinely got rolled in 2010 are playing games down to the wire even without two starting linebackers.
There will be growing pains, there will be head-scratchers and close losses, but at the end of the day the Carolina Panthers are no longer an 'easy out' and no longer a laughing stock. Even at 1-4 we're getting the attention and credit from the football world and that's all I need until this team learns to punch back.
DeAngelo Williams- Extremely Optimistic Hey guys, can we start to call other players who are under-performing 'washed up' and see what it does? As soon as the masses turned on DeAngelo he came alive, and is again proving he just tends to be a slow starter (as frustrating as that is). Rushing for 115 yards on just 9 carries D-Will again proved he is an elite running back, and now Rob Chudzinski is starting to understand his skill set.
James Anderson- Extremely Optimistic While the defense had a host of issues on Sunday the Panthers' linebacker wasn't one of them. Anderson really stepped up into a leadership role identifying Drew Brees' calls at the LoS and quickly countering them with audibles. Brees is going to get his yards no matter what, but Anderson made his job difficult and helped take the potent Saints' wide receivers out of the game. He also chipped in leading the team with 10 tackles.
Steve Smith- Extremely Optimistic The rejuvenation of Steve Smith continued, and while he didn't manage a 100 yard receiving day he did everything he could with the opportunities given to him. His 54 yard TD reception was inspired.
Cam Newton- Extremely Optimistic Playing very well again Cam made one bad decision to start the game, but quickly overcame it. As a whole he made smart decisions with the football and extended critical drives with his legs. With Cam at QB the Panthers will always have a shot.
Greg Hardy- Somewhat Optimistic The Kraken made a few excellent plays today, but there were other times that he was completely unable to put a decent pass rush on Brees. However, for his few good plays he gets high marks.
Captain Munnerlyn- Somewhat Optimistic The cornerback played a good game on Sunday which limited the wide receivers' abilities, and he came up with a big sack. A good day from Captain.
Darius Butler- Somewhat Optimistic While all of the secondary is responsible for allowing Jimmy Graham to have a huge day, Butler did a very good job when he was on the field. Definitely deserves a 'somehat' for his game on Sunday.
Jordan Pugh- Extremely Pessimistic If there's a critical play due to blown coverage then chances are it's because of a Jordan Pugh screw up. This is what happened again on Sunday as Pugh time and again allowed big plays in the passing game by looking lost.
Charles Godfrey- Extremely Pessimistic Thus far I haven't really seen that captain's 'C' amount to anything. Godfrey needs to be organizing the secondary the same way Chris Harris did when in Carolina, and right now they're in shambles. As far as his personal play he still takes bad angles and goes for the K.O rather than the smart wrap up. In games that wind up being close it's this type of execution that can destroy a team.
TE Coverage- Extremely Pessimistic Whether it was outside linebackers or the secondary who failed to cover Jimmy Graham (and at times it was both) they played a terrible game on Sunday. Thomas Davis' abilities in coverage help us shut down opposing TEs, but thus far in 2011 they get free reign on the Panthers' defense. There is no excuse to being carved up by a tight end like that.
As you see there were more positives than negatives, because we did come so close to pulling out this victory. There will continue to be growing pains on both sides of the ball while this young team finds their footing, but watch out when they do. I'm extremely excited for the future, and think this season will be a minor setback in a stellar future.