Injuries are a reasonable explanation for a close loss to a good team like the Dallas Cowboys. Yesterday’s loss was not that. The Carolina Panthers, up 15-6 against the Philadelphia Eagles until nearly the end of the third quarter, simply imploded.
The offensive line was awful; Sam Darnold has proven that he still can't be trusted under pressure, whether it is from a defender or the score board; Joe Brady is quickly amassing a short-yardage play calling resume that will bar him from most head coaching jobs; and the team as a whole still thinks that half time ends at the start of the fourth quarter.
All of that sounds bad and it is. We don't peddle blind optimism in this space. But we also don't dwell on the negative. These are all mistakes and weaknesses that we either knew or suspected were built into this team. It's year two of a rebuild that was never going to be fast.
The optimism comes from the defensive side of the ball for now. It was a wreck when Matt Rhule was hired in the 2020 offseason. Value and opportunity haTpve met with the ability of this front office to identify and aggressively obtain talent. Between two drafts and a stunning quantity of trades, the Panthers have almost entirely rebuilt the defense.
A.J Bouye and Haason Reddick each had impressive days yesterday. C.J. Henderson started to flash the talent that had him drafted in the top ten just last year by Jacksonville. And Donte Jackson, once an immature player who may have been an after thought acquired by a previous brain trust is now a captain and *the* playmaker in the secondary.
A hot start had everyone seeing stars, from me all the way to Scott Fitterer's office. The trade for Stephon Gilmore came from the confidence of a 3-0 start. It was made to improve the Panthers chances down the stretch of the season, but my favorite part came in Fitterer's post trade press conference. There he revealed that he has also been calling teams looking for offensive linemen. There just aren't any available.
I'd prefer if franchise cornerstones were available, for cheap, at left tackle and center, but I get that NFL rosters aren't built on butterflies and rainbows. Hope isn’t enough. I'm thrilled that Fitterer is making the calls to prove that the Panthers answer isn't waiting on another roster. More than hoping, this team is actively doing the work to try to get better.
We'll talk more in depth about Darnold on another day. I don't have a lot of optimism to share about him right now. For now, let's just acknowledge that pass protection wasn't the only thing holding the Panthers back. The team knows he has good plays in him. They know he can be a liability.
At 3-2, they have seen a lot of different sides of who the 2021 Carolina Panthers can be. That means knowing their weaknesses just as well as their strengths. Fans need to remember that these Panthers try to address their weaknesses. They make the call to see who is available. They don’t sign the same guy they cut three times last year and call it roster churn. They don't just draft a running back at eighth overall and assume that everything else will fall into place.
There is a different way of doing business inside of Bank of America stadium now. It fixed the defense and has already started on the offense. It’s premature to think the entire job is done, but it is also too early to say that these people can’t do the job. The biggest questions left for the Panthers are the biggest questions left for a lot of the league. The offensive line and quarterback answers are, at least in part, still out there. The question for fans is whether or not we can have the patience to trust the current leadership of the Carolina Panthers to keep doing the work they have already started.