It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... and right now for the Carolina Panthers, it seems to definitely be the worst of times. After a hot 3-0 start, the Panthers have proven fraudulent in their role as a “team to watch” by national pundits, and have dropped three straight with their latest overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings by a score of 34-28.
The fact this game made it to overtime has to be the biggest cause for optimism on the day, as absolutely nothing was going right for the Panthers offense, but yet, they still figured out a way to hang a late 10 points to tie. That included not only a “where has this been all day?” drive by Sam Darnold, but also a clutch two-point conversion. Optimistically, I think if we win the coin toss in OT and take the ball, we march down and win this game. Unfortunately, that flip of lady luck hung the game on a tired defense, and despite any sideline motivation from captain Shaq Thompson, their tank was on fumes.
Moving past late game heroics, a few people deserve to be recognized for doing the best they could. Keith Taylor stepped up and made an impact on defense, getting involved in several key moments en route to a ten tackle day. Donte Jackson had some eye popping stops as well, as he continues to show improvement in his tackling. Chuba Hubbard is showing a lot of promise as a rookie, and although Christian McCaffrey is simply not replaceable, right now he is giving us a chance without him.
Then you have the defense, who although they couldn’t muster a stop in overtime, or actually even record a sack, somehow kept this game in reach despite zero help and an overwhelming time of possession differential. We even got a blocked punt for a touchdown, hey special teams, welcome to the party!
Still, we don’t deal in blind optimism here, and even those constantly walking around with their glasses half full have to face the truth. Sam Darnold had a very bad day, and despite his late game awakening, was simply not right after throwing a pick on the first play. There are definitely some issues the team will have to continue to work through with him, and frankly that will be tough behind this offensive line. I don’t know how you fix bad habits under the kind of constant harassment Darnold deals with.
But, as anyone who watched knows, Darnold and the offensive line were far from the only problem. There were plenty of catchable footballs that were just straight up dropped by perfectly capable receivers, or caught and then fumbled away. It was the worst game of the season for both D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson simultaneously. Hopefully, we now have this nonsense out of the way, and they’ll go back to being reliable when targeted again. If it’s going to be tough to get Darnold clean pockets and looks, we can’t put the balls on the turf that he does deliver well.
Also, for all the defense did do to keep us in the game, they ceded too many third down conversions. They also failed to convert on sack opportunities and gave up chunk plays in the run game, which is expected to a degree against Dalvin Cook, but maybe not his fullback. Finally, in the end where the momentum was firmly in the Panthers favor, they couldn’t stop the Vikings on the first overtime possession, or even hold them to a field goal.
It was an unsatisfying end. I wanted Darnold to get one more shot to win the game, where we would have learned a lot. This makes two games that Sam Darnold made late plays to fight us back into contention, he did the same thing against Dallas as well. I am still optimistic despite these recent struggles, that the team is better off at quarterback right now than it was last year.
Finally, as said before, this is a team missing star players. Christian McCaffrey, Shaq Thompson, Jaycee Horn, and the yet to be seen Stephon Gilmore. Not only is that pure talent we don’t have, but also leaders on their respective sides of the ball. Optimism states that their injuries aren’t forever, and we may get a couple back real soon. They’ll give us a boost.
Cheering for a rebuilding team is never easy, especially if they flash some really early promise or even dominance that gets you excited that they may be farther along than you thought. Now we are facing some realities about their weaknesses in depth and at key position groups that have left them exposed. The Panthers are still very young, and still building themselves up. While today was a loss, it also wasn’t a total loss. They basically went to overtime without an offense. There are teachable moments and wins mixed in together, and they’ll continue to extract those and improve.
Stay optimistic, because really, who wants to be pissed off at the start of every game day? Keep Pounding, friends.