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Monday Morning Optimist: Panthers unable to stop the Saints from marching in the end zone

This one hurts.

Guys, it’s time to face reality.

We suck.

There, I said it. The 2016 Carolina Panthers are not a good football team. That much was made painfully obvious when they allowed the Saints to jump out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter yesterday. Sure, they found a way to exploit a bad Saints defense to make it a competitive game in the 4th quarter, but the Panthers’ defense was unable to make a single stop when it mattered and allowed Drew Brees to drive down the field to set up the game winning field goal with 11 seconds left in regulation. A laughable failed attempt at the 25 laterals play was the best Carolina could muster as time expired, and the Saints marched on to victory while the Panthers whimpered into last place in the division.

Heading into our Week 7 bye, we’re 1-5. To make matters worse, we’re 0-3 in the division. I know that this column is supposed to inspire positivity, but I’m struggling to find any right now. Yes, there are ten games left in this season. Yes, the Panthers could theoretically win them all and finish with an 11-5 record and have us laughing at our misfortunes early in the year. Unfortunately, I just don’t see that happening. Not this year. Too many things have gone wrong for this Panthers team, and the ship is sinking fast. I doubt Ron Rivera has enough lifeboats on board to salvage a winning season, so at this point it looks like the Panthers are playing for pride, if they’re even doing that much.

However, as bad as yesterday’s loss was and despite the abyss we currently find ourselves in, there were a few bright spots to be found. Let’s take a few minutes and talk about them, because frankly we need the encouragement right now.

What I liked...

Not much. Such is the life of watching a putrid team try to scrape and claw themselves out of a 14-0 hole, succeed at doing so, and then fail again when it counts. But enough about that. Here are the few players who stood out and deserve some recognition:

Cam Newton — Extremely Optimistic

He looked great in his first game back from a concussion that kept him out of action last week against the Buccaneers, throwing for over 300 yards and two touchdowns while also getting one on the ground. He did throw one interception in the end zone, but that was solely the fault of WR Devin Funchess who decided against playing the ball after the tipped it towards the open arms of the Saints’ defender.

Despite any semblance of protection from his offensive line, Newton looked like he was going to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat, but the defense just couldn’t get New Orleans’ offense off the field one last time. Hopefully Newton can use this game as a confidence boost for the rest of the season, because aside from a few throws here and there he looked like the MVP we saw last year.

Jonathan Stewart — Very Optimistic

Stewart was an integral part of the Panthers’ offense, gaining 85 yards on 19 carries and keeping the Panthers in the game with two fourth quarter touchdown runs. If the Panthers are going to find success after the bye week, they’re going to need a healthy Stewart to do so. There’s no doubt he’s the best running back on the roster, provided he can stay healthy.

Ted Ginn, Jr.’s pass to Brenton Bersin — Very Optimistic

Let’s be honest, we all wanted Sunshine to come down with that touchdown. He would have done it too, if not for that pesky defender committing pass interference. At any rate, I loved that play call and hope they pull that one out of their hat sometime later in the year. With the way this season’s going, we’re going to need the entertainment value.

Greg Olsen — Somewhat Optimistic

Another typical day at the office for Olsen, who grabbed six passes for 94 yards and made several drive-extending catches. He’s pretty good, y’all.

Teddy Williams — Somewhat Optimistic

He didn’t commit any horrible penalties on special teams, and he even grabbed his first career interception. Considering how awful the rest of the secondary was, it was nice to see him have a not-horrible game.

What I didn’t like...

A lot, especially on defense. However, because this column is supposed to be positive, I’ll try to be brief.

Panthers’ Secondary — Extremely Pessimistic

I know it’s Drew Brees, but goodness gracious. The only positive that can be taken from their performance was that Brees didn’t throw for 500 yards like Matt Ryan did. The bad news, however, was that he threw for 465 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Panthers’ (lack of) Pass Rush — Extremely Pessimistic

I don’t know if there are any words that can adequately describe how awful the pass rush was yesterday, but I’m going to try. Terrible. Putrid. Offensive. No-good. Pathetic. Miserable. Non-existent.

It was worse than all those words combined. The Saints had their third string left tackle in the game for most of the afternoon and the Panthers sacked Drew Brees one time. When you have an inexperienced secondary in the game against one of the best passing attacks in the league, your pass rush has to get to the quarterback. The Panthers didn’t, and Brees carved the Panthers’ secondary like a Thanksgiving turkey. It’s really that simple.

Panthers’ Pass Protection — Very Pessimistic

Cam Newton did the best he could with what he had, but the offensive line has to give him more time to operate in the pocket. After the Saints took a 41-38 lead with 11 seconds to go and gave Carolina the ball one last time, they dropped eight defenders into prevent defense (40 yards downfield) and rushed three. They still got pressure on Newton. That’s not good. That’s not good at all.

I don’t know the answer to the Panthers’ lack of protection for Newton, but I do know that Mike Remmers at left tackle and Daryl Williams at right tackle is not the answer. The Panthers need Michael Oher to return ASAP, and even that’s not the best option we could hope for. When a right tackle is your best option at left tackle, you have severe problems on your offensive line. It’s probably too late to fix it this year, but it’s something Dave Gettleman has to fix in the offseason if the Panthers want to be competitive going forward.

Graham Gano — Somewhat Pessimistic

You can’t miss extra points in the NFL. I know it’s more difficult now than it used to be, but let’s be real — it was a 33 yard field goal inside a dome. You can’t miss those. The only reason he’s not getting a very pessimistic or an extremely pessimistic is because the offense bailed him out by getting a two-point conversion later in the game. In the end, Gano isn’t the reason the Panthers lost 41-38, but that missed extra point still annoys me.

What’s next...

Thankfully, a bye week. The first six weeks of this season have been a disaster, but now we have some time to breathe and collect our thoughts before we try to claw ourselves out of this hole we’ve put ourselves in. Hopefully the Panthers we see in two weeks are a motivated group who want to prove the first six games were the exception to the rule and not a return to the pre-2015 Panthers who struggled to win games. I still have a little bit of faith left that they can turn this thing around, but it’s fading fast. Hopefully they can restore my confidence in them when the return to action against the Cardinals in Week Eight.