The Carolina Panthers loss to the Detroit Lions taught us three things about how this season is going to go. First, this season isn’t going to go anywhere if the defense can’t figure out how to tackle. Second, this season isn’t going to go anywhere if the offensive line can’t find a way to keep Cam clean. Third, this and future seasons are going somewhere special with these offensive skill players. DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel combined for 12 catches, 212 yards, and 2 touchdowns. The Panthers have six weeks in 2018 and three years while those guys and Christian McCaffrey are still on their rookie contracts. They may have been a bad team last week, they may have been a bad team yesterday, and they may be a bad team today, but the Panthers have the talent to be a top tier team in the foreseeable future. They have a core that can win in the NFL. If you are going to be a bad team then I think it is best to be a bad team with a lot of potential. That is what I see in the Panthers right now.
We can chicken and egg the decision to go for two and the missed kicks that kept the Panthers from overtime or a win all day long, but the truth is that the Panthers aren’t a good team right now and neither of those factors was the driving factor in yesterday’s loss. Neither were Devin Funchess’ allergy to catching balls that hit him in the hands or Cam Newton’s occasional lapses in judgement.
The truth is that all of those mistakes combined with the Panthers inherent flaws to make an insurmountable deficit. Those flaws were consistent with the Panthers loss to the Steelers. Somebody untaught Luke Kuechly how to tackle and the team is, as usual, following his example. Meanwhile, Chris Clark has been exposed for what he is: great depth. It is time to check in on Matt Kalil’s knee and pray that this is the last time we write “Matt Kalil is healthy and rested for the first time since he signed with the Panthers.” The Panthers won’t find a better option on the streets at this point.
That may seem to be a down point of view, but it is actually quite hopeful. I harbor no illusions that this team is capable of beating New Orleans. The NFC South, let alone the NFC Championship, is out of reach now. That doesn’t mean this is an entirely lost season. I have never been a “Super Bowl or bust” fan. I like to enjoy the games I am watching instead of guarantee my disappointment from day one of Training Camp. The hope in these obvious and fatal flaws in the Panthers is that they are, quite simply, obvious. The coaches are well aware of them.
I don’t expect the team to rally back from this and take down the whole league, I just want them to pull it together enough to give me as many enjoyable Sundays as this season has left. This may seem like a remarkable shift in tone from my work earlier this season. I was, at the time, ready to wash my hands of a Ron Rivera run team. I still mostly am. Rivera has a history of coaching from inside a cripplingly conservative shell to start each season. He isn’t doing that now, however. Each week he is calling the game with more urgent purpose. He is trying to win. That is fun to watch and that is why I will root for him as well as for the Panthers right now.
Give me a coach that is interested in scoring points as a means of winning games, a savvy and uniquely talented quarterback, and a whole mess of brilliant, young playmakers and I will show you optimism. That is who the Panthers almost are. They have each of those things right now, but claiming them as identity is slightly beyond them. The Panthers need to clean up their defense and improve their protections. Those aren’t small orders but they are quantifiable. They will be fun to watch for the rest of this year if they make progress. Next year, they might just be competitive in the New Orleans sense of the word.