I don't believe I've posted here since the glory days of Brian St. Pierre, but I've been lurking. I've suffered the same sickly feeling as most of us after Sunday's loss, and I've read a lot of the vitriol on the recent threads. But I think a lot of people missed two important points, which prompted me to write this post.
First of all, the good. I don't share the disdain many people have regarding Mike Shula's game plan. In fact, thinking about it before the game, were I offensive coordinator I would have designed something similar. It was hot and humid in NC. The Panthers have been practicing in this weather for 6 weeks; the Seahawks haven't. Seattle has a tough secondary, but was shorthanded on the defensive line. Wear them down and we should be able to run at will in the 4th quarter. I would have wanted to grind it out on the ground, throw short passes, and keep that defense on the field as long as I could. Wait for them to bring their safeties up, and then maybe throw long. I didn't see the All-22 (just the Fox coverage), but the fact that we were able to run for almost 5 ypc and complete 70% underneath tells me that Seattle never brought their safeties up. It's not the OC's fault that Olsen had the dropsies, the sure-handed DWill fumbled twice, Josh Thomas gave back a punt, etc., and our TOP suffered for it It seemed like a reasonable plan for the day (and I trust we'll see something different in Buffalo).
No, what bothered me is something much deeper. I lived in Boston in the 1980s. I watched the Red Sox. I got to see The Curse in action. It was real. Not an actual curse, mind you, with the ghost of the Babe affecting the outcome of games. No, it was something else. They had the talent - Roger Clemens, Jim Rice, Tony Armas, Dwight Evans, Wade Boggs, an ancient Yaz, and Bill What's-his-name. But the curse was there. Everyone knew it. The fans, the players, the coaches, and the opponents. It was tangible. You could feel it. You could see it in their faces. You knew it was going to happen. They'd come oh so close, show how good they were, even win their share of games, but in the end everyone knew they would lose. The opponents knew all they had to do was wait it out, and the Red Sox would implode. Was it a culture, a lack of confidence, a fear of losing? I don't know, but it was real. It lasted 85 years! It didn't end until finally they were in a position that they just didn't care. Down 0-3 to the Yankees, nothing was expected. No pressure, losing was expected, any win was a bonus. The fear or lack of confidence or whatever was gone. It wasn't the players or the coaches - it was the situation. Kind of like our recent late season runs?
Think about our winning seasons. Remember Jake's first game, coming off the bench to lead a comeback and eventually a Superb Owl. Or the 2008 season opener, when we played the SB favorite Chargers, and "Rosario Dawson" caught that last second TD. Jake wasn't the greatest QB, but he had the team believing. At least until that thing happened (let's not talk about it). Then it happened again in the 2009 season opener. The franchise hasn't felt the same since.
What bothered me on Sunday wasn't the play calling - it was appropriate for the situation, and it was enough to win. It wasn't even the mistakes by the youngsters like F. Alexander, A. Smith, or J. Thomas. Young players are going to screw up; that's how they learn. What bothers me are the veterans. Greg Olsen drops his first pass. Does he start to think about catching the ball, rather than just catching it automatically? DWill fumbles a ball out of bounds. Does he start to think about how to carry the ball, and hold it differently in the red zone? The defense is stout all game (except for one long pass), we turn the ball over inside the ten with 4 and a half minutes left. If they hold, we get the ball back in decent field position. Sure, they're tired, but we just had our longest drive of the half to give them a break. But are they thinking this is just more of the SOS from the last few years and lose a bit of heart? I can't say, but this feels awfully familiar.
The thing is, we had a great chance to overcome this on Sunday. We were playing dead even with a great team, and had a chance at not just a win, but a fourth quarter comeback against a contender. The type of win that can boost a franchise, like we've seen here in the past. Instead, there seemed to be a sense of dread.The fans, the players, the coaches, everyone sensed it. How to get rid of it? That's a hard question. In a way I feel sorry for our coaching staff. This started before they got here, but if they don't figure it out soon, Rivera and Co. will be gone.