Then there were five. A season that once held so much promise has become a nightmare as the Carolina Panthers dropped their fifth game of the season, and now we can safely stick a fork in 2012. It was a game where some things went right, others went wrong, and when the fourth quarter finished we were left with a game that was decidedly 'meh'.
I abhor 'blame it on the refs' excuses, but the inconsistencies late in the game were absolute killers. It goes beyond the pass interference that wasn't called on Louis Murphy, and permeated the entire final two minutes of the game. Most egregious was the 15-yard penalty on James Anderson for a non-existent horse collar tackle. That play gave the Cowboys a critical 15 yards, and ensured Dallas could run down the clock. When that happened it put the Panthers in a terrible situation where everyone in the stadium knew they would be throwing deep, and the offensive line wasn't talented enough to handle the pass rush.
Does the blame fall wholly on the refs, or the quarterback? No it's a mixed bag. While Brandon LaFell is still developing nicely (more on him later), he simply doesn't have the speed to split a zone, and Louis Murphy doesn't have the route running needed to split the zone-- we're left with an occasion where everyone knows the Panthers are throwing to Steve Smith, and when that happens you might as well blow the final whistle immediately. Pair that with an offensive line who are banged up and struggling, and quite frankly it's a miracle the Panthers managed to keep this game close.
Every game, every loss, Cam Newton is the story-- and yesterday's game is no different. It is far too easy to malign Newton for the end zone interception, and yes, that played a role. However, despite that he still generated almost 300 yards of offense by himself, and ran for over 10 yards over per carry-- and yet that isn't enough. There's no easy answer to a complicated problem, much like 2010 there was no definitive 'way to turn things around'; such is life when you build slowly.
The main issue on Sunday was, yet again, the lack of a cogent offensive game plan. On one side of the ball you had Sean McDermott without Jon Beason and Chris Gamble, still managing to piece together a good enough defense to keep the Panthers in the game. Did Rob Chudzinski and the offense have injury issues too? Absolutely, but Ryan Kalil might as well be Jon Beason, and Chris Gamble is Steve Smith-- how would the offense have looked without Steve Smith yesterday?
Two carries by DeAngelo Williams is terrible, ten carries by Jonathan Stewart-- worse, especially when you realize how few that is between the RBs. The bye week was supposed to be a time to retool, and get back on track. Thus far it looks like more of the same, and that's just sad.
Luke Kuechly-- Extremely Optimistic
Is there any way Jon Beason can get his job at MLB back now? The rookie is performing so well in the middle, it's impossible to justify making another change. Finishing with 15 tackles, and playing extremely well, the decision to draft Kuechly was a good one.
Steve Smith-- Extremely Optimistic
He needs help, it's as simple as that. Smitty returned this week and did everything he could, but some of the pressure needs to be taken off him if they hope to open up the deep passes that came so easily in 2011.
Thomas Davis-- Extremely Optimistic
Ten tackles, and a forced fumble that should have been a critical turning point. TD is leaving everything on the field each week, and making a difference. The linebacker situation is getting very hazy, and it's unclear who should be the three starters.
Charles Godfrey-- Somewhat Optimistic
It has been deafeningly quiet, but Godfrey has had a really good season so far. Yesterday's game wasn't perfect, but his five tackles were all big plays.
Rob Chudzinski-- Extremely Pessimistic
This season the offense has been beyond terrible, and it has been discussed ad naseum. Chud needs to make adjustments, and quickly. The free fall of the offense is largely on his shoulder, and an inability to divert from an insane game plan.
Amini Silatolu-- Extremely Pessimistic
Rookies have bad games. Yesterday was a bad game. The false starts and various penalties were a real killer, and ensured there was no momentum for the offense. Over the last few weeks he has improved vastly, but against the Cowboys he looked lost.
Brad Nortman-- Extremely Pessimistic
A punter's job is basically to not do what Nortman did. An average punt of just 38.5 yards ensured that Dallas' offense didn't need to work very hard to get points. Given how many points the Cowboys added off field goals, he was a large reason why things didn't work for the defense.
Is it 2013 yet? Stick a fork in the season. Pre-draft scouting starts now, because this simply isn't a very talented football team, and yesterday proved that even with a week off to work on things, it didn't mean anything was actually improved.