THE FIRST HALF
I want to start this off by echoing something I said in a FanPost two weeks ago. There is a progression (this will be a recurring theme of this FanPost) regarding the wins and losses of a franchise. Some are lucky or with instant talent, and rack up enough wins to slide into the play-offs. Some scratch by, and some franchises must deal with it. Right now, our Panthers are dealing with it ("it" being whatever the reporters say, whatever the coaches think, and however the fanbase grumbles). This is the "timeline" for a "deal with it" team, in my mind, regarding wins and losses:
Lose big > Nearly win > Nearly lose > Win big
We all know what's occurred this year in our first thirteen games. We all know where the Panthers stand on this scale. I have nothing new to add. So, let me use this format / timeline to describe a different part dynamic of the Carolina Panthers.
That first picture is very important to this point. That picture symbolizes team, symbolizes working together to create a common goal: Touchdown. You have Jeremy Shockey, who has just scored the first touchdown of the Week 13 game, being celebrated and hassled and hugged by Geoff Hangartner and Ryan Kalil (who I am very happy only had a stinger in this game!!!). This picture makes us look like a fucking team. I love this picture, as well as what occurred after this play:
There is a certain scene / image in this game that comes after this photo; when our secondary realizes that the quarterback has been sacked in the endzone. Their hands are in their air, one man is jumping up, and everyone is running to the sidelines to be patted and praised. THAT is the image I wanted to find, but this one will do. In that image that I wanted, we looked like a team. Happy, energetic, loose, and most importantly, united.
That might be my favorite moment of the game, when we're all maybe not feeling victorious, but feeling appreciated. All the effort is paying off, all the work is being done. We're piling the shit on the Falcons, and the defense is making plays. There's another moment in the first half that shines out to me:
Again, not the specific image I had in mind, but this is the play that you see our offense likewise energetic. You see Brandon LaFell keep his cornerback from making a play on D-Will, and then you see LaFell raise his arms in victory. You see Smitty make a block, and then run after D-Will in case of any other threats to their touchdown. The O-Linemen (particularly Ryan Kalil) making blocks and running up-field, likewise protecting and cheering. This was such a great moment for our Panthers, because they felt like a team. Not only did they play together like one, but they celebrated each other, they praised their work and sweat and divots. This is where I want to re-use that past timeline:
No team > Nearly a team > Coming together > The team
Unlike the previous one, there is no constant presence. For our season, there is one common thread: nearly winning. Here, there are moments when we have no team, when we're nearly a team, and not so much further on the scale. I think our offense has done wonderful, but one side of the ball doesn't make a team. For the first half of this game, I swear to Tebow and to Higgs Boson and The 700 Club, that the Panthers were a team. In this half, the coaches called effective plays (I would have attempted 3 runs for the first down as well, in those last 2 minutes), but it was our players who were making it right. And, here's one last satisfactory detail for our first half:
SHIT, EVEN DEREK ANDERSON HAD TIME TO TAKE SHIT NOT SO SERIOUSLY!
BUT... then... there was...
THE SECOND HALF
I honestly want to keep this FanPost light, without sadness and regret. But this is where it all gets subjective.
Everyone's hooting and hollering and hating on the two costly interceptions made by Cam Newton. I am not. In my mind, they happened, and consequences ensued. But these two interceptions were not what cost us the game. There are several factors:
- A missed field goal
- Bad play-calling on 1st and 5
- Bad quarterback decisions in said 1st and 5
- Bad coaching
Too much has been made and said of the Mare field goal, so I won't go there. It could have won. But, many things could have won us this game.
As I said earlier, I would have ran the three downs in the last 2 minutes of the first half. I have no problem with this call. Everyone is up in arms about not using the running backs, and when we finally do, it's bizarre how people are now up in arms about them being used. I don't care if it's the first quarter, or the first drive; running our two elite running backs on all three downs is not something I will get upset about. They have the talent to break off a huge run (as seen by D-Will's 74 yard TD), even if it's only for a 8 or 12 yard gain. But why you wouldn't run them ONCE when you only need 5 yards... I have nothing more to say.
Cam Newton needs to get Steve Smith the ball once every four plays. It needs to be in the Rules and Regulations. It just so happened we had four plays in which to score a touchdown. Smitty did not get the ball once. Cam Newton needs to also use his legs in that situation. There is no doubt in my mind that the man can get 5 yards scrambling.
And finally; I have no idea what is said to Cam Newton on the sidelines. More often than not, they talk of plays that need to happen, and go over defensive formations. But someone needs to talk to this kid, to tell him "who cares about that play, who freakin' cares... I've seen what you're capable of, I've seen how you play, and I am not worried whatsoever about that play... You're Cameron Jerrell Newton!" I can't even begin to phrase what Smitty would say. SOMEONE needs to get in this kid's ear and soothe the poor bastard, because I only ever see him with a towel on his head, alone, staring vacantly ahead. (I did see, though, after the missed field goal, that Cam went to the sideline, sat on the bench, but remained with his helmet on; I liked this, but someone needs to take advantage of this and talk to him.) As I said, I have no idea what happens on the sideline, but those moments when the camera does turn to him, I always see him alone.
Looking forward (and not the G-D draft), I see this off-season as something special. For two reasons: firstly, Cam Newton will know what to expect. He'll know the hard hits, he'll know the pace of the game, he'll know his mistakes, his advantages, his praises, his objections. Secondly, he will have plenty of time to look over game-tape to see what he did wrong, he will have plenty of time to look over the playbook, look over the defenses. His work-ethic is nothing to make little of, and we all know he will use this time wisely. I have an idea that this kid is going to take a GIANT step upward during the off-season.
There is so much more to be happy about than there is to be angry over. Regardless of this game, we've all seen where Cam Newton is heading. The beautiful thing: we've yet to see what he will become. No one can say; "That's what we're going to get!", because we have gotten it, yet. We know where he's heading, but once we know that destination, that peak, good God, this blog and this offense is going to be so different. Lay no blame on Newton, Mare, or Rivera for this game. Blame it on the Panthers, who are yet to be a full team. But fuck, we got so close, didn't we? We saw where the Carolina Panthers are heading.
RON RIVERA APPROVES OF THIS MESSAGE