There's no binary rating system or silver lining to yesterday's game; what we saw against the Tennessee Titans was a regression back to where this team was twelve months ago and that's unacceptable, even if somewhat understandable. I say this was 'understandable' because we probably could have seen it coming a mile away if we opened our eyes and ears. There was too much energy being expended throughout the week, and too much of a 'we're going to get after this' mentality coming out of the bye that you don't see from veteran clubs who are well prepared for a football game. On Sunday the Carolina Panthers showed their youth, not just as a team but as an organization and the masses of fans are included in Sunday's debacle.
No member of the Panthers is above being accountable for the mess that was yesterday's game. It was a complete failing in all three phases of the game; while we can make justifications, prognostications and excuses at some point in time the lifeline of desparation needs to be cut by Occam's razor- the Carolina Panthers aren't a good team... not yet.
More after the jump
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you view it) the problems of yesterday can and will be solved, in time. When Cam Newton joined the Carolina Panthers he said one thing that we all loved, one line that resonated to a point that it became one of his first quotable moments as a member of this team
"I understand it's not something that's going to be instant, like instant grits, It's more like collard greens. You've got to let it sit and wait. But at the same time it's going to be a fun process. I know that."
I'm not sure when it happened, but both the fanbase and Cam have lost sight of that statement made less than seven months ago. Between the near-losses to Superbowl champions, and record breaking starts to the season fans became duped into believing we weren't collard greens, that Newton was able to transcend the NFL and bring our success instantly. Since those early weeks living off moral victories hasn't been enough, discontent grew louder and no longer was 5-11 seen as a success, but rather grandiose dreams of wild cards became the status quo. We're not the only ones guilty of this lack of foresight, Cam too in his own way has fallen into the hype whether we want to believe it or not.
With just under five minutes gone in the third quarter Newton completed a 3rd and 22 pass to Steve Smith for a 13 yard gain. The offensive line failed to give Cam adequate protection for much of the game, and after being knocked down again Newton refused the help from his linemen in getting up as he sullenly left the field despite an unresolved penalty flag laying on the Bank of America Stadium turf. Last week on CSR radio we had a round-table on what Cam's best moment of 2011 has been, but for me this one moment was his absolute worst. If we're going to be hyper-critical of other players on this team then the lens needs to be turned on Newton at times also, and his behavior here was unacceptable. I completely get his competitive fire, and as it's been stated time and time again that is what will ultimately get the Panthers to the promised land, however with just over 10 minutes left in the third Newton's fire jumped the shark and became petulant pouting.
As we saw last season from Steve Smith this kind of attitude does absolutely nothing for a football team, and this isn't the first time we've seen immature behavior from Cam this season. I think we remember a few weeks back when Greg Olsen tried to console Cam following his three INT performance against Atlanta he was met yelling that never escalated. That fire will be both Newton's greatest strength, and his greatest weakness; in time I have no doubt he will channel it in the direction it needs to go, but yesterday he failed to keep his own emotions in check for the betterment of the team- this is something a great leader learns to do.
If there was a single play that perfectly encapsulated the Panthers' day it game early when on the second play of the game, Jonathan Stewart dropped a basic screen pass that would have easily gone for 20+ yards. That's what yesterday was in a nutshell, normally reliable players playing unreliably. On offense the line failed to provide any semblance of protection for Cam Newton for much of the afternoon, on defense we saw mental lapses result in costly plays, and special teams were marred with poor punting, bad coverage and another miss by Olindo Mare. The game was a failure, a complete and utter failure and as such there will be no 'optimistic' or 'pessimistic' grades this week, rather I thought we could continue to talk about why things went wrong.
I understand why fans are furious with that type of game, it was a flashback to 2010, a flashback to ugly times. I've seen fans try to quantify just how bad yesterday's game was in terms of the annals of Panthers history. Really, I don't think it was legendarily bad... the memory of game's like this from 2010 are indelibly burnt into my mind, and because of that I can't really say it was legendarily awful; but it was awful for 2011. This was without a doubt the worst we've seen the Panthers this season because it was the first game they weren't competitive in, and they never stood a chance of winning. If I'm trying to pull a positive out of this game then that's what I lean on, it took until week 10 for us to not to be competitive.
The anger being channeled at the coaches I feel in unwarranted to a degree, and here's why: Rivera and company had one major failing in yesterday's game- the team wasn't ready to play. That's no small critique, really that's everything, but for whatever reason the Panthers came out of the bye unprepared for an NFL game. In terms of what happened on the field I have a hard time blaming anyone specifically on the coaching staff, they weren't the ones who left a huge lane open on a PR, they didn't fumble the ball in the redzone, they didn't whiff on Damian Williams for an easy TD, they didn't throw the ball poorly, tip it or let it fall into a defenders hands, they didn't lead the NFL in receiving and then fail to get separation for much of the afternoon.
Really I could go on and on and wax poetically about how bad the game yesterday was, but I'm sitting at about 1,100 words right now and I should probably take Darin Gantt's advice
Can tell people are looking for scalps (Rivera, Bell, Munnerlyn, etc.), but this is the kind you flush and proceed. No need to overanalyze.
I think that's sage advise in this situation... it was abysmal, but it was also an outlier based on what we've seen in 2011. They blew a winnable game, sure, but at least this wasn't typical of what we've seen in 2011 thus far. Folks, this is going to take time, more time than a few months can correct, maybe even more than another year can correct, I don't know for sure. It's going to take natural maturation, smart drafting and wise free agency spending to really get this team where it needs to be and that takes a while. Pride comes before the fall, and as an organization, as a fanbase we were all a little too proud heading into this game. I think we had a sobering experience yesterday, we're not instant grits, but I have no doubt that we're still collard greens, and as hard as it is to do we just need to sit and wait.