The Panthers dropped their second straight game of the season after a disappointing Week 5 performance and now sit at 3-2 after five games. Carolina dominated the first half of action, but fell apart in the second half and fell 21-18 to the Eagles. Losing sucks — especially when you lose like the Panthers did yesterday — and while I don’t think anyone expected this Panthers team to run the table, I believe we expected them to take care of business when they were faced with a winnable game against an inferior opponent.
Alright, that’s enough of an intro. Below are five takeaways I had from yesterday’s game, in no particular order.
Midnight is approaching for Sam Darnold
We knew there was a chance the day would come when Sam Darnold finally turned back into a pumpkin, and that day was yesterday. His stat line was ... well, it was a stat line: He was 21-of-37 for 177 yards, 1 touchdown, 3 interceptions and he was sacked three times for a total of 19 yards. I’m not going to mince words here: He was terrible yesterday, and the three interceptions certainly didn’t help convince his detractors that last week’s game against Dallas was just an aberration.
I’ve been a proponent of Darnold and have said that he has potential to be good here, and I still think there’s a chance he can actually turn his career around, but he didn’t do himself any favors yesterday. The Panthers had no business losing to the Eagles, and Darnold played a large part in the game turning into a disaster in the second half with missed throws and interceptions. I’m not ready to write him off completely just yet, but I’m starting to lean in that direction after seeing him make the mistakes he’s made over the last two weeks.
Having Christian McCaffrey back will certainly help Darnold, which brings me to my next point...
The Panthers (still) need Christian McCaffrey back ASAP
I mentioned this last week, but it’s still true: One unfortunate reality is that the Panthers offense is simply not as good without Christian McCaffrey as they are with him. This has been the case since he was a rookie, but it has been amplified over the last two and a half games.
I feel the need to point this out again: This is not an attack on Chuba Hubbard. He’s a fine No. 2 running back, and he had his first 100-yard game yesterday, but he’s a No. 2 guy, not a No. 1 guy (at least not right now). He’s fine as a spell back for CMC, but he’s not ‘the guy’ (and that’s OK, he’s a rookie and shouldn’t have to be ‘the guy’ right now).
The Panthers need to run the football to be successful, and with the way the roster is currently structured, they need someone of Christian McCaffrey’s caliber to accomplish that goal. Hopefully he’s back in next week so the Panthers don’t lose too much ground in the standings (and so we can see the offense look like they actually belong on the field).
As important as getting CMC back is for the Panthers’ offense, it’s not the only thing they need to be successful, which brings me to my next point...
The Panthers (still) need to build a quality offensive line
I’m not making excuses for Sam Darnold because he did make some awful decisions yesterday, but the Panthers have to build an offensive line if Darnold is going to have any chance at success here. He was constantly facing pressure from the Eagles’ front seven, and he never seemed to find a rhythm with his skill players to consistently move the offense down the field.
I wrote this last week — and it’s still true — so I’m just going to copy and paste it again (with a few modifications):
It’s time for the Panthers’ brass to face facts: They simply cannot focus on guys who are good at multiple positions on the line, and instead they need to focus on guys who are great/elite at one spot. Taylor Moton is an elite right tackle, but they don’t have an elite left tackle, left guard, right guard or center.
They have a few guys who can play both guard and center and do a decent job, but those kind of players should only be used in emergencies. They need to solidify the interior of their line to give Darnold — and Hubbard, and Freeman, and McCaffrey — a chance to succeed. And for goodness sake... can we please get a left tackle? We’ve only been trying to solidify that spot since 2011. I think it’s about time we actually did so.
We put Moton out there yesterday and he was OK, but we need to find someone to pair with him so he can play on the right. Brady Christensen was OK for his first career start, so there is some promise there, but even if Moton and Christensen became an elite tackle duo, we still have to fix the interior of the line or no quarterback is ever going to stand a chance at being successful.
The coaching staff needs to take more risks
The Panthers lost this game because they fell apart in the second half, and poor coaching decisions had a lot to do with their collapse. It all started when the Panthers faced fourth-and-2 at the Eagles 46-yard line with 0:39 left in the first half, and Matt Rhule decided to punt the ball back to the Eagles instead of trying to pick up a first down.
The Eagles drove down the field and kicked a field goal to make the score 15-6 at halftime. If the Panthers pick up that first down, they have a chance to make it at least an 18-3 game with a field goal or put the game essentially out of reach with a touchdown. But because Rhule decided to punt, the Eagles had time to drive down the field and put points on the board to keep them within striking distance.
Rhule apparently didn’t learn his lesson in the fourth quarter when the Panthers faced fourth-and-3 from their own 46-yard line. Instead of going for it and trying to ice the game away (there were four minutes left in regulation), Rhule punted. The Eagles blocked the punt and started at the Carolina 27-yard line. (They scored the go-ahead touchdown on this drive, in case you forgot.)
If the Panthers failed to convert the first down, the Eagles would have started around midfield and the defense would have had a better chance to contain them. And yes, to be fair the defense also would have had a better chance if the punt wasn’t blocked, but they never should have lined up to punt in the first place. If the Panthers pick up the first down, the game is probably over and we’re celebrating a win instead of trying to explain a loss.
One huge mistake that almost every team makes every single week is giving the other team hope. You have to put the game away when you have the opportunity to do so, and despite the Panthers’ offense being a dumpster fire in the second half, the game never should have been close in the first place. The Panthers should have put the game away in the first half when they forced Philly to punt four times and had a safety gifted to them on a botched snap into the end zone (that should have been a touchdown if someone would have just jumped on the football).
Their failure to put the game away before halftime — coupled with Rhule’s decision to play the field position game instead of asserting his dominance — left the Panthers trying to figure out why they couldn’t get the job done for the second straight week.
There are a few bright spots
Despite the Panthers blowing a 15-6 halftime lead and looking absolutely putrid in the second half, there are a few good things to take away from this game. Chuba Hubbard looked pretty good with 134 total yards (101 rushing, 33 receiving), Haason Reddick was a beast (8 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 quarterback hits, 2 tackles for loss), Donte Jackson had another solid game (he’s gonna get paid, y’all), and Zane Gonzalez was 3-for-3, including a 50-yarder (it’s sad that we have to point this out as a bright spot, but it is what it is).
And despite the fact that they have now lost two straight games, the Panthers are still in pretty decent shape. They’re 3-2, so they’re still above .500 in what will likely be a very tight race for a playoff spot in the NFC. I’m sure the pundits are going to point out that we’ve been a paper tiger all along, and losing this game probably proves that point, but I’m just going to let them talk for now. The Panthers are still alright, and if they can patch a few holes, get some quality players back on the field, and avoid disaster in the third quarter, they’ll be in the playoff conversation later in the year.
What do you think, Panthers fans? What stood out to you yesterday? Share your thoughts with us!