FanPost

Hit the Panic Button

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It is now time to panic, Carolina Panthers fans. The Carolina Panthers have failed twice to establish themselves as legitimate playoff contenders with two key losses to Seattle and Atlanta. These were two statement games to show that the Panthers could be a NFL successful team and possible contender.

Coming off an embarrassing loss to the New York Giants on national TV, the Carolina Panthers were "believed" to walk out of the Georgia Dome with a W to keep their playoff hopes alive. Heading into the game, the Carolina Panthers had a 1-2 record and needed a victory to compete with the Atlanta Falcons for the NFC South title. With a win, Carolina would be 2-2 and only a game behind the Falcons, but a loss would put Carolina three games behind them.

Although they were playing the best longtime fans had seen in a while, the Panthers still managed to lose. Two big plays are specifically pointed at as the reason the Panthers lost. A Cam Newton run on third down could have easily solidified a victory, but instead his fumble gave the Falcons the ball back with a chance to win. While pinned on their own 1-yard line with no timeouts left and only 59 seconds remaining, the Falcons managed to complete a 59-yard pass to Roddy White. From there, the Falcons got into field goal range after bone-headed mistakes by Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Norman.

With that said, the Panthers could have easily won without having to play until the last seconds if they had done a better job of containing Michael Turner. Although containing Turner is no simple task, there were countless occasions when a Panthers defender could have easily tackled him for a minimal gain or loss but failed to do so with weak hits and/or failing to wrap him up. It would often take multiple Panthers to finally bring him down. Those "short yard" runs became 10-, 20-, and 30-yard gains. Turner contained means less-successful offensive drives with no play action threat and no Turner receiving touchdown. It's the little things like finishing tackles and being aware of the game situation that killed the Panthers in this game.

The Atlanta loss was a heartbreaking one for the Panthers organization as a whole, but it was especially devastating for the fans. They came into this year expecting big things from the Panthers, but instead the bar significantly lowered after the team’s first four games.

Seattle was supposed to be a rebounding game for the Panthers, one that they would play with urgency after two heartbreaking defeats and their playoff chances diminishing. The Panthers were probably not too worried about an inexperienced, undersized, 3rd round rookie quarterback that has struggled for the most part through his first four games; coming off a 45.8 passer rating game with three interceptions and only 168 passing yards wasn’t too intimidating. The Panthers main focus was containing Marshawn Lynch on offense, after backs like Pierre Thomas, Andre Brown, Michael Turner and Doug Martin ran all over the Panthers defense in the first four weeks.

Although they held Lynch to under 100 rushing yards and no touchdowns, Russell Wilson torched the Panthers with his ability to escape pressure on the field and through the air (excluding his two interceptions). The defense and special teams kept the Panthers in this game, but the Panthers defense still should not have let Wilson throw for a career-high 221 yards. The Panthers cannot allow mediocre quarterbacks to throw for 221 yards if they want to be serious contenders. Wilson was able to avoid many would-be sacks, which also cannot happen when the Panthers face better offenses. It seemed that whenever the Seahawks got holding penalties they would easily convert the first or second and longs into first downs, another thing that cannot happen against better teams. What will happen when the Panthers face offenses like the Cowboys and Bears in the next three weeks?

Besides that, the defense was spectacular containing Lynch to only 94 all-purpose yards, which sounds like a lot, but is not really when you consider the fact that is the lowest all-purpose yards the Panthers had given up to the lead back of an opposing team all season. The defense also tackled the best they’ve ever done so far this season -- except for that first down run by Lynch in the 4th quarter when it took four guys to tackle him -- and made plays on the ball and on the quarterback with two key interceptions and two sacks.

For how well the defense played, the offense was the real liability with only 190 total yards compared to the Seahawks’ 310 yards. The offense was never able to successfully convert a drive, with only a field goal to show for it. The other nine points came from the defense. The three turnovers the Panthers defense made also were disappointing as the offense failed to put points up on the board after each turnover.

Once again, when Cam Newton's number was called in a late game situation he failed to convert. Two games in a row he could have won the Panthers the game but did not. Although he led a successful 4th quarter drive all the way down to the Seattle 1-yard line, he was unable to convert the 4th down by throwing the ball at the feet of a wide-open Ben Hartsock in the end zone while scrambling away from Seattle defenders. Even though throwing on the run isn’t easy, Cam has completed multiple passes while on the run before and should have no trouble -- especially since he had to throw about eight yards and it was the 4th quarter. The play-calling throughout the game was also weak with three different drives starting off with two run plays to either DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart or Mike Tolbert, which forced the Panthers offense on third and longs. It seemed whenever a run play was called, the play would either be a draw to Williams or Stewart or an option play with Newton. Neither was successful as Pete Carroll’s Seahawks had prepared all week long for the option, and the Seahawks’ D-line was able to over power the offensive line and stuff the runs up the middle.

The offensive line was dominated by the Seahawks’s rush defense, with Cam getting hit and sacked countless times and no holes for the running backs. The most baffling part was watching Newton get sacked with only a four-man Seattle rush. The Panthers still had a chance to win with its last drive of the game, yet the offensive line failed to properly protect Newton and give him enough time to make a play.

When it comes down to it, the offensive struggles have to be put on Newton. The offensive line's below-average outing and the poor play calling did not help, but even with that, the Panthers’ offense still should’ve at least scored one touchdown. Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams fumbled, which is uncharacteristic of them, and were unable to eclipse 20 yards rushing. Smitty was not his usual self either, with multiple dropped passes and ending a possible promising drive by throwing a Seattle defender to the ground. The Seahawks defense is one of the best in the league, but it was the Panthers offense that stopped them in this game.

Cam Newton had one of his worst games of his career with poor reads and overthrowing and underthrowing the football. He looked unusually lethargic today, lacking his usual charismatic personality on the field. Moreover, he would often standstill and watch as he made a poor throw or the running backs picked up only a yard. His footwork was also terrible, something that was visible during the preseason. He’s just not his usual self. He was not a leader and did not lead "his" team to victory. The offense as a whole did not come to play against Seattle, still hung over from the devastating Atlanta loss. The bye week cannot come at a better time for the Panthers, as their schedule just gets more difficult.

There is still a chance that Carolina can make the playoffs, but right now the odds do not favor them. This season has been a very odd season as the defense has played more consistently than the offense. The Panthers have not yet found their team identity. It’s not a question of if the Panthers will find it, but a question of when the Panthers will find it. They will come back strong.

Keep pounding!

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