The first football game I ever watched in my life was the 2003 Super Bowl with the Panthers against the Patriots. It was a wonderful game that remained competitive until the final minute. The Carolinas vs New England, South meets the North, and it was only by the skin of their teeth that the Patriots somehow managed to take home the championship. It was back in the times where Jake Delhomme would lead 4th Quarter drives to a victory rather than let other teams do it for us. We were a team committed to excellence and every time we didn't do well, each and every member of our team would take responsibility and make a commitment to do better. Every move we made, from signing players to firing coaches, were all made with the idea to make this team better and bring us back to the playoffs and back the Super Bowl.
At what point did this change? Which decision was it that completed the transition of the Panthers from making moves to make our team better...to making moves simply to keep what we have or to make our team worse?
- Was it when the Panthers lost Julius Peppers and Kris Jenkins, never bothering to replace them until several seasons later?
- Was it when the Panthers lost Muhsin Muhammad and never, to this day, made a move to successfully replace him at that second WR spot?
- Was it when we lost Chris Gamble/Mike Minter to retirement and Richard Marshall to free agency and never bothered to replace them with equal talent?
- Was it when we lost strong players on our offensive line like Keydrick Vincent, Travelle Wharton, Mike Wahle, and others on a season by season basis and continued to ignore that part of our line along with our declining talent in Jordan Gross?
- Was it when we re-signed a plethora of players in 2011 after a 6-10 season, sending the message to the rest of our team that being a losing team is accepted as the new normal?
- Was it when we hired a head coach that got turned down by 7 other interviews and allowed him to keep his job after two losing seasons?
Being a fan of a consistently losing team is a terrible thing that wears on the mind. Tomorrow I will be 25 years old. I'll be graduating college at the end of the year and I'm going to be out there in the job market. I hope to one day get a cute girl I can settle down with and raise a family. I want to have between 3 to 4 kids. That is my ideal future. Those of which are my sons are going to become Panthers fans. They will be no choice in the matter. As long as they are under my roof, they will watch football on Sunday. Participation will be compulsory.
But the Panthers have made the playoffs only 4 times since 1996. How the hell am I going to convince my kids to become a fan of a consistently losing team?
These guys are turrible and they have made losing an art form. It's hard to even watch them on Sunday because you know that even if they win they're going to trip onto victory by mistake. It's not the fact that we lose that's the problem. It's the way we lose and the submissive attitude and play-calling that allows it. 2-14 or 2-20 in games on in the line in the 4th Quarter now? I don't give a damn which one it is...it's still fucking huge. I'm sick of it because it either goes 1 of 2 ways.
- A: We have the ball in the 4th Quarter with two minutes to go on the clock. Our opponents have the lead. Panthers show no rush to get to the line of scrimmage. We either run or pass the ball into the middle of the field in insignificant 5-6 yard chunks. Panthers run out of time and have to pray that we get a hailmary miracle to win. We don't. We lose.
- B: Our opponents have the ball in the 4th Quarter with two minutes to go on the clock. We have the lead. Panthers decide to play our corners 10 yards off the receiver and protect against the deep ball ((And don't even prevent that like the game last year with Atlanta)). Our opponents abuse the sidelines and drive up the field like it's nothing. We don't blitz. They score in the final seconds of the game in a heart-crushing fashion. We lose.
Sometimes B will lead to A or vise versa. Losing is a disease that takes many variations.
Why is it that our Panthers get submissive in the closing minutes of the game and at what point did we start doing that? Why is it that our play-calling gets conservative when we have the lead and we don't finish teams off when we're in a dominant position? Where is it that we lost our vision for a Super Bowl and when will it return to us?
The answer is that there is no real decisive moment. As consistent as been our penchant for losing, we make moves both on and off the field that leads to the Panthers losing on Sunday. We call the same plays that lose us football games regardless of whether it works or not. We force the ball deep to Steve Smith despite the fact he's almost 35 years of age and we don't have an offensive line to hold people long enough for him to get deep. We run the ball 3rd and long with DeAngelo Williams on the wrong side of the offensive line. We call the read-option countless times regardless of common sense.
And to top it all off, we tell Cam Newton he can't run the ball when he was our leading rusher his rookie year!
From a fans perspective, I just can't help but look at the Panthers and wonder what the hell they are doing. I feel as if this entire season is going to be a microseism of the 3rd preseason game where our defense scores 3 touchdowns, our special teams scores one touchdown, and our offense does jack shit. We're going to have a great defense this entire year that is going to tear the house down. We have a complete defensive line. Our elite linebacker core is best in the league and led by the rookie of the year. Besides our secondary, which is the least important position when you have such an elite pass rush, we're pretty damn good on defense.
But our offense can't score if their lives dependant on it. And it makes it worse because it's so easily fixable!
Turn Steve Smith into a slot receiver and have him run routes reminiscent of the later Hines Ward years in Pittsburg. Make him that elite 3rd down receiver that runs slant, corner, and comeback routes and have him be your first look when you need someone to throw to and get a first down. Make Ted Ginn your deep threat since he actually has the straight-line speed to act like one. Due to the inept offensive line, design an offense to make short 6-7 yard passes their bread and butter and run the ball when the linebackers start to drop back to stop it. Make it become so habitual that Cam Newton gets used to never holding the ball more than 4 seconds. Only go for the deep ball when the short passing game has been established and do it off the play action to Ted Ginn. And finally, #FreeCam and his scrambling ability so he's not afraid of taking off if he sees easy yards in front of him.
Doing these things will not make us an elite offense, but it will at least make us good enough to win ten games with our elite defense carrying us to great things.
With Ron Rivera, it's not going to happen. He couldn't coach his way out of a paper bag. I hold all the hope in the world that our general manager will do great things for us. Picking Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft transformed our defense into a fearless beast and he flipped the cap situation from positive to negative in less than a year. But Ron Rivera could be given God's Angels to serve in all positions on the football team and he will still find some way to mess it up. He is a tremendous scourge to winning and it is our duty to fire him. That is the first step in leading the Panthers back to greatness and back to a Super Bowl.
But only the first step.
As a team and an organization, the Panthers need to rededicate themselves to winning philosophically. I never forgot the quote by Cam Newton when he first came onto the team:
"Victory is achieved through domination."
-Cam Newton 2011
Domination is not falling into the prevent defense on the 4th Quarter when the game is on the line. Nor is domination running the ball on 3rd and long when a short pass from Cam Newton can kill the game. This is the single most important thing holding us back from winning consistently and we have to do away with it as quickly as possible.
The next head coach we hire needs to be a coach that plays the same game for 60 minutes just like our players do. Someone that is dedicated to scoring, winning, and crushing our opponents whether we are up by 3 points or up by 50. No more pussies or coach in trainings allowed. Fuck that shit. This is a man's game. It's damn time we started acting like it.
We here in the Carolinas, home of football crazies maniacal and insane, continue to wait for the Panthers to host a football team worthy of our respect and fandom.
We're still waiting.