The Carolina Panthers fell to 0-2 on the young season after falling 20-17 to the New Orleans Saints. With Week 2 in the books, and a second straight NFC South loss, here’s what’s rising and falling with the Carolina Panthers.
Adam Thielen’s battle against Father Time. Adam Thielen is 33 years old and in his 10th NFL season, so he’s essentially the Methuselah of wide receivers. After a very quiet debut with the Panthers of two receptions for 12 yards, the two-time Pro Bowler led the Panthers in Week 2 with seven receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown. He was about the only Carolina wide receiver who could get open in this one with the rest of the WRs combining for four receptions and 41 yards.
Frankie Luvu’s Pro Bowl candidacy. The Panthers linebacker was a borderline Pro Bowler last year with 111 tackles and seven sacks in 15 games. Through two games this year he’s playing even better. Luvu terrorized the Saints with nine tackles, three tackles for loss, and two sacks in an absolutely spectacular performance. If Frankie played for a more competitive, prestigious, nationally relevant team than the Panthers (say the Chiefs, Bills, or Cowboys), he would be a household name. With Shaq Thompson now sidelined, 2023 is shaping up like a Pro Bowl campaign.
Ejiro Evero defensive schemes. The Panthers first-year defensive coordinator has proven quite capable through his first two games. Despite getting little support from Carolina’s offense against the Saints in Week 2, Evero’s defense surrendered just six points at halftime. The Panthers forced Derek Carr into a pedestrian outing, picked off a pass, and sacked the Saints quarterback four times. Running backs Tony Jones Jr. and Jamaal Williams combined for 21 rushes for just 63 yards (3.0 yards per carry).
Eddy Pineiro’s perfection. The Panthers kicker has now made 23 consecutive field goals going back to last season. He made three field goals against the Saints, including one from 52 yards and another from 54 yards. It looks like Carolina’s offense is going to struggle all season to put points on the board, so Pineiro will need to build on his impressive streak.
Terrace Marshall’s redemption tour. The Panthers third-year receiver was a second round pick in 2021. After a lackluster rookie season with just 17 receptions for 138 yards, it looked like Marshall started figuring things out last year with 28 receptions for a respectable 490 yards. Through two games this season with a rookie quarterback and a new offensive scheme, Marshall has struggled to get in gear. In Week 1 he put up two receptions for 23 yards but was blanked against the Saints despite playing 22 offensive snaps.
Donte Jackson’s highlight reel. Donte Jackson is an interesting case study. There are games when his speed, athleticism, and tackling just jump off the screen. Then there are other games where he ends up on the wrong end of a couple of highlight plays (which is just a job hazard for cornerbacks). In Week 2 Jackson got beat by Michael Thomas on third-and-9 for a 19 yard gain that set up a Saints field goal for a 6-3 lead. Then late in the fourth quarter he got beat by Rashid Shaheed for a pivotal 45-yard pickup that led to a Saints touchdown and a 20-9 lead.
Hope for the 2023 season. Many Panthers fans came into the 2023 season with a lot of hope that new head coach Frank Reich could quickly overhaul the team, Bryce Young would be a revelation, and the Panthers could claw their way into the playoff picture in a wide-open NFC South. Well, after two games and two divisional losses, that hope is starting to ebb. The offense is grinding its gears trying to find any semblance of rhythm. Three key players have already been lost to the IR - Jaycee Horn, Brady Christensen, and now Shaq Thompson - which casts a black cloud over Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers have started in a hole and are going to need quickly dig themselves out before the season slips away.