The Carolina Panthers lost an ugly 27-13 home game to Gardner Minshew and the Indianapolis Colts. With the loss the Panthers fall to 1-7 on the season in a “building year” where very little has been constructed.
Ejiro Evero’s evolution
The Panthers defense was fantastic by holding the Colts to just 198 total yards - 120 passing and 78 rushing - and 3.5 yards per play. The defense did more than enough to put Carolina in a position to win. Despite a number of injuries to defensive starters and no help from the offense, Ejiro Evero’s squad balled out against Indy.
Tight ends keeping it tight
Carolina’s tight ends have been largely invisible from the passing game since Greg Olsen left town in what feels like 1847. But against the Colts Stephen Sullivan had four receptions for 28 yards. Hayden Hurst had two catches for 54 yards, including a huge 48-yard gain on third-and-11 in the fourth quarter. Tommy Tremble added two more receptions for 12 yards including a great contested catch on fourth-and-1 to set up a Panthers touchdown.
Miles Sanders’ second half
It took until halfway through the Panthers eighth game of the season, but Miles Sanders finally flashed some of his former Pro Bowl skill. Sanders’ first season in Carolina had been an unmitigated disaster, but on the Panthers touchdown drive to start the second half he had three rushes for 21 yards and two receptions for 19 yards. More of this, please.
Cook’s in the kitchen
The Panthers signed undrafted rookie free agent safety Alex Cook from the Giants practice squad back in Week 7. Two weeks later he was the Panthers second leading tackler with seven on the day, including a tackle for loss. The Colts game was the first live action in Cook’s NFL career and he made the most of his opportunity.
Kenny Moore’s sisters
Kenny Moore had two pick-sixes against Bryce Young. Several of Moore’s sisters were at the game in Charlotte and the broadcast cut to them celebrating both times he found the end zone. As a Panthers fan I was appalled by both of Young’s errant passes that caused the sisters to celebrate. But as a human being I was begrudgingly happy for Moore’s siblings having this experience they will never forget.
Bryce Young’s extended family
As a follow-up to “Kenny Moore’s sisters” I wanted to title this section “Bryce Young’s sisters”, but after some brief internet research it appears Bryce has no siblings. We’ll just assume Young’s extended family is as glum as Moore’s family is happy.
The two pick-sixes the Panthers rookie quarterback threw were just brutal, especially overthrowing something as simple as a screen pass. Those were classic rookie mistakes that will hopefully be corrected as he gains experience. On the bright side, Young did show his mobility with five rushes for 41 yards, including a heady 13-yard run on fourth-and-5.
Let’s not get too high or too low about Bryce Young just yet. This season will be a learning experience. Next year he should improve over this year. And by Year 3 we will know if he’s a legitimate franchise quarterback or not.
Thomas Brown’s offensive offense
In the first half against the Colts, Carolina’s offense generated a whopping 63 total yards. Sixty three! The Panthers first half drives were punt, punt, punt, punt, field goal, pick six, end of half. On the season Carolina’s offense averages just 4.2 yards per play which ranks second to last in the league ahead of only the New York Giants at 4.1 YPP. Oof.
Getting “wide” open
While the Panthers tight ends stepped up against Indy, the wide receivers disappeared. Adam Thielen pulled in five more passes for 29 yards, but outside of him Carolina’s remaining wide receivers combined for three receptions (on eight targets) for a measly 14 yards, including a DJ Chark touchdown.
The Panthers wide receiver corps is a mess. Adam Thielen has been phenomenal with 62 receptions on 76 targets (82% catch rate!) for 610 yards. But DJ Chark, Jonathan Mingo, and Terrace Marshall have combined for just 54 receptions on 101 targets (54% catch rate) and 552 yards. How Thielen can haul in over 80% of his targets while the rest of the Panthers receivers are barely above 50% probably says more about the quality of the team’s receivers than the shortcomings of its rookie quarterback.
Common sense officiating
The Panthers defense was called for two terrible 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalties against the Colts. To be clear, the Panthers didn’t lose this game because of the officiating, but these two egregiously bad calls highlight a broader issue across the NFL.
First, on third-and-7 Gardner Minshew scrambled near the first down marker, clearly and deliberately slid late, and a diving Troy Hill seemed to purposefully jump over Minshew but still made contact with his shoulder. Hill was flagged for a 15-yard penalty. From a pure physics standpoint I don’t know how professional athletes running at Hill’s speed who have already started a tackling motion can be expected to magically “pull up” when a quarterback deliberately slides late.
Yes, quarterbacks should be protected when they truly “give themselves up” and slide down well in advance of anticipated contact. But today’s NFL quarterbacks are milking that protection to slide as late as possible while forcing defenders to either pull up prematurely or continue with the tackle and risk a late hit. The enforcement of this rule needs to change. If quarterbacks slide late enough to force a bang-bang play, the benefit of the doubt needs to go to the defender as long as there’s no obvious targeting. If quarterbacks want to ensure they have protection from contact, they need to begin their slide well in advance of that contact. Problem solved.
Next, on third-and-7 Xavier Woods drilled Michael Pittman in the high chest and shoulder area with a lethal - but legal - hit that forced an incompletion and sent Pittman to the ground. Woods got called for a penalty. The Panthers safety delivered a textbook hard hit, which is how football is intended to be played!
There’s a clear difference between a “hard hit” and a dangerous “targeting hit” launched to the head and neck area of a vulnerable receiver, which should be penalized. Hill just delivered a hard hit, not a targeting shot. Instead of a 42-yard field goal attempt the penalty gave the Colts a first down and they scored a touchdown two plays later.
The Panthers now travel to Chicago to take on the Bears on Thursday Night Football in a contest that’s almost assuredly going to set the progress of offensive football back a couple of decades.