Nothing emphasizes how weird 2020 has been as a football season so much as the debt that Atlanta Falcons fans now owe the Carolina Panthers. In snapping a losing streak in Atlanta that stretches back to the 2015 season and putting the Falcons down for their fifth straight loss of this season, Arthur Blank has decided to finally, finally fire head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. You’re welcome Falcons fans.
How does that sentitment fit in a column for optimism? Because the Panthers did a favor for our neighbors. No matter how much it helped their own season, it still proves that civility isn’t dead if you don’t look too closely at it. I’d call that optimistic in today’s world.
Of course, the Panthers didn’t completely save the Falcons season while they moved themselves to a 3-2 record. Matt Ryan, the architect of much of their recent disappointment, is expected to remain both completely washed and the team’s starting quarterback. Baby steps, Atlanta-ans.
As for the Panthers themselves, the team once again saw a surprisingly strong defensive performance matched with a competent and intentional offense. It seems that we can call these concepts the 2020 Carolina Panthers identity moreso than weekly abberations now that we are almost a third of the way through the season.
What I liked
Mike Davis - Extremely Optimistic
Proving that running backs really don’t matter, Davis has stepped up and performed admirably in the wake of the team losing one of the best players in the NFL. It’s even possible that the quality of his performance has earned him continued touches to pace Christian McCaffrey once the higher paid player returns from the injured reserve list.
Teddy’s Turnovers - Extremely Optimistic
Teddy Bridgewater just completed his third game in five attempts as a Panther with zero turnovers. His throws and decision making continue to range between impressive and acceptable without truly knocking our socks off at any moment. That said, coaching is lifting this roster above its talent level and Bridgewater’s ability to keep the ball safe is a huge part of what makes that possible.
Jeremy Chinn - Extremely Optimistic
The rookie hybrid safety/linebacker leads the team in total tackles through five weeks with 43. He was second on the team yesterday with nine, only one behind Shaq Thompson. Credit goes to Phil Snow for putting the kid on the field in a position to succeed, but the bulk of the accolades fall on the shoulders of Chinn who hasn’t shrunk away from his moment. The transition from Southern Illinois University to the NFL hasn’t overwhelmed him.
While there is no telling what his season would have looked like if Luke Kuechly had not retired, that just makes Chinn even more of a hero of 2020. This whole season is a portrait of voids left by franchise legends. Chinn is taking advantage of that space and giving fans something to root for: a brand new story.
What I didn’t like
Red zone offense - Somewhat pessimistic
This title is making an appearance in this column for the third week in a row. It has been a bit of a roller coaster, and is becoming the story of the season. Two out of those three weeks have seen the Panthers stall out consistently in the red zone. Last week saw an unrealistic four of five trips into the red zone converted in touchdowns. This week was an aggressive reversion to the mean, with a balancing one of four drives inside the twenty ending in a touchdown.
What does this mean? It’s hard to tell still. The Panthers woes against the Chargers three weeks ago were largely due to short yardage play calling. This week saw difficulties on third downs regardless of the distance. Head coach Matt Rhule, offensive coordinator Joe Brady, and quarterback Bridgewater have still only played five games together ever. We can chalk this up to them working out the kinks, but it is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
It’s hard to take too much positive from an expected win against a down-on-their-luck franchise that used a loss to you as an excuse to fire their head coach and general manager (you’re welcome, again, Falcons fans). After all, we shouldn’t gloss over the fact the Panthers made plenty of mistakes and benefited from the poor performance or outright absence of the aging stars that comprise--and compromise--the core of the Falcons roster.
Maybe the best example of this is how much I want to drop kudos on Juston Burris for his interception that was an absolutely huge moment in the game. But the real hero of that play is Matt Ryan and his abysmal decision to throw the ball more to Burris than to the Falcons player whose numbers you couldn’t see behind Burris’ tight coverage.
The best way to look at the Panthers now is by the sum of their record. They have three wins in a row, which is three more wins than a lot of draft focused fans were expecting. Their two losses came in their first two games. If they have kinks now then we can certainly forgive them a few more mistakes at the start of a season with new coaches, no offseason to speak of, and the whole pandemic creating chaos at every turn.
Within that, they have one loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that came by only four points after a failed fourth and one in the red zone in the final seconds. It was literally that close. That team also happens to be captained by the most veteran quarterback in the NFL and is also who the Panthers are tied with for first place in the NFC South.
Their other loss came in their first game of the season against the Las Vegas Raiders. We didn’t know what to make of the Raiders in Week One, but they are starting to look like a real team, and in the AFC West no less. It’s worth mentioning that they convincingly beat Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs this week, who are the reigning Super Bowl Champions and might still be the odds on favorites to repeat in 2020.
That’s not bad.