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Monday Morning Optimist (Tuesday edition): The excellence of heart cannot overcome execution

The Carolina Panthers put forth a valiant effort to keep their playoff hopes alive, but sadly they shot themselves in the foot too many times to keep the dream alive.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 Carolina Panthers’ season was symbolically summarized by this game. The team came out firing, with halfback passes for touchdowns, aggressive play calling, and a defensive effort akin to the best of times we had grown accustomed to and had missed for the last 13 games.

Make no mistake, this Panthers team came to play, and they gave a likely Super Bowl contender one of the hardest games they’ve played and will play this season. The defense came to shut down Drew Brees and Sean Payton, and, stats be damned, they did. They kept an inept offense in the game after a crazy trick play got them their first and only points, you really cannot ask much else against a team as talented and diverse offensively like these New Orleans Saints. This game wasn’t just Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, this defense as a unit showed up and gave that offense hell.

Even in the waning moments, when all seemed lost, Ron Rivera trusted his defense to make a stop and they did just that with a miraculous forced fumble by James Bradberry that flew into the endzone and created a touchback. If the offense capitalized and won, this would have been one of the greatest late season efforts in Carolina Panthers history. Sadly, as much as the season has showed us, this team cannot capitalize on opportunities.

I firmly believe this team can be great, but I stress the word CAN. The offense has pieces that can break a game, however collectively they’ve only seemed to break themselves as of late. Cam Newton cannot shoulder the burden of this offensive passing game alone, and Christian McCaffery cannot be his only outlet. These pieces need time to gel, and that’s okay. The 2018 season seemed to be a prime opportunity to break the classic even-year mold and allow this team to be an every year contender, however, after watching 14 games I can plainly see that they need more time. This offense has flashed tremendous game breaking ability, but they lack the consistency that you see from the better NFL offenses, and the same can be said about the defense. In every game except this one.

I was shocked by what this defense brought to the table against their greatest foe to begin the season. This Saints coaching staff wrote the book on how to beat this defense in 2017, yet with a lesser on-field product a year later this defense damn near won the game by itself.

They got after Drew Brees, they did well against the run, and the defensive backs made plays on the ball I wasn’t expecting, based on 13 other games as a body of work. This defense surprised me, this defense surprised them.

The Panthers are a team built on the players, momentum, personality, and heart. I, as a fan, was saddened to see them lose, because I saw something from this defense I wasn’t sure I would see again. They played with heart, they spit in the face of one of the best offenses in the game today, and they made them work like hell for that victory. That may be disappointing now, but it gives me hope for the future. Because this team found the fire that made them successful in the past. This team played with heart. This team can still hang with the big guys.

And come 2019? The NFL better be ready for the storm on the horizon.