The Carolina Panthers should have won Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks and it's impossible to justify why they didn't. That was the best opportunity the team could have to take advantage of a battered and bruised Seattle team. The Seahawks had multiple injuries, were playing on the East coast in an early game and were ripe for the picking. Ultimately a combination of offensive passivity, lackluster play calling and defensive fatigue all lead to a loss.
When is Cam Newton going to catch a break? Once again the narrative will be about how he can't win in the 4th quarter, while Russell Wilson can. The difference was play calling, as Seattle kept showing they had nothing to lose -- while the Panthers continually help desperately on to the thin lead, almost scared of trying to win. Newton was let down by his receivers, but even more by his play calling that held him to only 125 yards passing and 37 in the second half.
Blaming Greg Olsen and DeAngelo Williams is a coping mechanism, an excuse to ignore the biggest issue on the team which is (and has been) coaching. Ron Rivera can't manage the clock, Mike Shula couldn't adjust in the second half -- and everything felt oh so familiar.
Seattle is a very good team with a lot of depth and talent, but the Seahawks are being elevated to world-beater status in the postmortem. This is a defense that allowed 306 yards per game last year and allowed an average of 15 points. The Panthers only gained 243 yards and scored seven points -- with several defensive starters missing for Seattle. It's impossible to see this offense as anything but below average. Carolina has the 5th worst offense in the NFL right now in yards gained, the 2nd worst in points scored and 3rd worst in yards per passing attempt.
If Newton is being honest that the Panthers ran their game plan when they decided not to pass deep I'm hoping Mike Shula realizes where his bread is buttered, and quickly.
The silver lining (and yes, there's a silver lining) is the defense -- particularly the youth. Star Lotulelei and Luke Kuechly were sensational, even though their games wont move the needle when you stare at a box score. Similarly, the pass rush as a whole was excellent even though they only sacked Russell Wilson twice.
Star Lotulelei -- Extremely optimistic
Here is my game MVP for Carolina, and it's not really close. Registering four tackles from a nose tackle position is impressive, but it was his ability to manipulate the pocket that made the difference on defense. Russell Wilson didn't do well dealing with pressure up the middle and with a little offensive help this could have been the difference.
Charles Johnson -- Extremely optimistic
Johnson was the most effective pass rusher other than Lotulelei and his sack-fumble on Wilson helped mitigate the bone-headed ejection of Frank Alexander (more on that later).
Luke Kuechly -- Extremely optimistic
It's just Luke being Luke. Flying around the field and making tackles. It says something when nine tackles is ho-hum. At some point in time he's going to take over another game like he did against Baltimore, but it wasn't yesterday.
Essentially everything else -- Extremely pessimistic
The perfect mixture of a failure cake was dropped passes, DeAngelo Williams' fumble and gutless offensive play calling in the second half. Don't forget Frank Alexander acting like an idiot and forcing pass rushers to play extra downs, or Armond Smith not learning from his mistake.
It's not just one thing, and that's not very reassuring. The upside it that it's week one, which means there's plenty of times to correct these issues. Cam Newton had a 5.4 YPA -- those are Jimmy Clausen passing numbers. Mike Shula needs to realize who his quarterback is and what he excels at.
The defense are absolved of all responsibility, even their breakdowns in the secondary (you get a pass this one week Josh Thomas). They faced a Seattle offense in the second half that had the advantage in possession, and Frank Alexander's stupidity changed the pass rush rotation, which had a domino effect on the entire defense. Russell Wilson was sensational in the second half and he's good enough to torch most teams -- but Newton could have (and should have) been allowed to keep the Panthers in step.
No week 1 game is 'must win', but next week's contest against Buffalo got a lot more interesting. The Bills are far better than anticipated, and it's hard to see this game as a 'gimme' anymore. E.J. Manuel is poised and their defense gave New England everything it could handle.
Carolina will always be in games when its pass rush can get push, but something has to change on offense. It will be interesting to see what Shula and co. can do against a defense that held Tom Brady to 288 yards passing on 52 attempts.