This won’t take long. There wasn’t a whole lot to love in the Panthers embarrassingly inept loss to the Bears. With 10 days to prepare for a bad team following up a bad year and starting a very fresh rookie Quarterback, Carolina came out and fell flat on the field. You know what? That doesn’t do it justice. The Panthers, ready to be knighted as one of the NFL’s elite teams in 2017, tripped and landed gut first on their own sword, dying an unnecessarily noble death. I don’t think there is any other team in the league that can so acutely take an above .500 record in the first half of the season and make it feel like a lost year the way that the Carolina Panthers have.
What I liked. . .
The defense - Extremely optimistic
Editorializing this game gets to be all doom and gloom because the offense was woefully bad and you typically can’t win a game if you can’t score points. The Bears last night were the exception to that rule, as their offense could do nothing against the Carolina defense the whole day. Believe it or not, Mitch Trubisky led an even worse effort than Cam Newton. The defense allowed 5 first downs and 3 points. That is a stellar job. Sure, Chicago was gifted a lead by their defensive shenanigans, but they only had a two possession lead the whole game. Carolina’s inability to move the ball intentionally didn’t stop the Bears from trying to ice the game early. The Carolina defense did that.
The only thing missing today from the defensive performance were turn overs. Those are mostly luck, to be fair, but that luck seems to be tremendously one sided this year. We won’t knock a unit missing two captains and still shutting down their opponent for not being lucky.
Cam Newton - Somewhat optimistic
This may seem controversial, but Newton had a fairly solid game. He technically gets the credit for both defensive touch downs, but they were both the results of wide receivers failing to properly receive the ball. He had a few rough looking throws and a very questionable decision on his second interception, but he looked strong while facing an unbelievable amount of pressure.
The broadcast angle of the game rarely showed anything down field, an area Newton also rarely tested. I don’t know if throwing deep wasn’t in the game plan, if Chicago managed to combine coverage and pressure well enough to prevent the deep ball from being an option for Newton, or if the Carolina quarterback was watching the same feed that I was, but there was a noticeable lack of attempts in what is widely considered Cam’s strongest area as a passer. This doesn’t sound optimistic, and that’s because it isn’t. It is what is holding him back from receiving a higher rating in this column.
What I didn’t like. . .
Offensive coaching - Extremely pessimistic
As John Fox famously said, it is what it is. The dearth of situational awareness in the play-calling last night was breathtaking.It also wasn’t anything new. Combine the aforementioned hesitance to throw deep with the two defensive touchdowns the Bears scored by creating (or discovering) turnovers outside the numbers and Shula appears to have become gun shy and settled for a series (read: entire game’s worth) of play calls designed to highlight our weaknesses: running the ball and throwing short and over the middle. This was epitomized in the Panthers first 4th down conversion attempt all season. They called a shotgun run for Cam up the middle on 4th and 2. On a distance that is literally shorter than Cam Newton, we lined the quarterback up off the line of scrimmage and asked him to run straight at the place where we had been getting blown off the ball for at least the past 3 games. And we did this at a time when a field goal would have made this a one possession game.
Fast Forward to the 4th quarter and you’ll find the Panthers down 14 with less than 4 minutes to go in the game. It is 4th and 12. I’m going to make this as simple as possible. You can either punt or attempt to convert. If you punt then you are going to lose this game; there is no way you can reasonably get the ball back in time to score twice. If you go for it on 4th down and fail to convert then you are going to lose this game. If you go for it on 4th down and manage to convert then you still have a chance, however slight, to win the game. The object of playing football, ostensibly, is to win the game. The only reasonable choice is to attempt the 4th down conversion and hope like hell Cam stops listening to Mike Shula’s play calls and pulls some magic out of his ass. It is the only choice that carries even a remote chance of winning the game. Instead, the Panthers surrendered with 03:44 left on the game clock.
What’s next. . .
Ron Rivera will probably defend his decision to punt tomorrow the same way he did after punting away any chance we had of beating the Saints a few weeks back. I really wish this weren’t the case, but the Panthers coaching staff has established a consistent pattern of decision making that doesn’t value winning. That is bad.
I didn’t put Curtis Samuel or Kelvin Benjamin in the pessimistic section for their miscues that led to scores. Those were small mistakes, fixable mistakes, that had ridiculous consequences. The Panthers didn’t lose this game because of those mistakes. They lost because of coaching choices.
The Panthers have a very talented roster. It isn’t perfect, but it is a roster that could win a whole bunch of games if its talents were maximized. Instead they are struggling to move the ball with an offense that seems to be having an identity crisis and their defense, while great, can only put up with so much more of this. I guess what I’m saying is that hopefully the coach of the 2018 Carolina Panthers can deliver both excitement and consistency to this fan base.
Oh, and I guess what is actually next is the Panthers traveling to Tampa to face the 2-4 Buccaneers. I can confidently predict that match-up to be a football game that will be broadcast on television. In all seriousness, the Panthers should beat the Bucs. The Panthers also should have beaten the Bears.