Seven. That’s how many times the Panthers have come up short on game-winning drives this season. This week, Teddy Bridgewater and the Panthers’ offense took the field at their own 27 yard line – down five points. 1st and 10 – Bridgewater was sacked for a six-yard loss. 2nd and 16 – Teddy dumps the ball to Pharoh Cooper, who picks up 8 yards. 3rd and 8 – Teddy throws the ball out of bounds. 4th down, with the game on the line, Bridgewater checks down to Curtis Samuel – who is immediately tackled after gaining just one yard. Game over. Broncos win 32-27. It’s a familiar refrain to a song no one wants to sing.
“Of course you’re frustrated in the heat of the moment,”Bridgewater said after the loss. “You want to do well in those situations and it’s going to continue to bother you until you actually excel in that situation. But, we have to find some positives in those situations, look at some of the things we did well, address the things we didn’t do so well and try to find a way to be great in those situations. I think if we could just become a better situational football team, starting with me, we could really do some great things.”
Bridgewater is right. You have to find positives in this situation, but not for the reasons he said. The Panthers have been reluctant to use the word rebuild, but that’s exactly what this is. And it’s not a bad thing. Given the challenges coming in to the season – a new coaching staff with no offseason mini camps and no preseason games, the Panthers have performed better than expected. The general consensus heading into this year was that Carolina would win 4-6 games. They’re on track for that, but what many didn’t expect was for the Panthers to be as competitive as they’ve been. 0-7 on game-winning drives isn’t a pretty stat, but it also shows you’re not getting your head bashed in every Sunday. It shows fight. It show perseverance. It’s a building block toward the franchise’s goal of sustained excellence.
I asked coach Rhule if the team’s competitiveness is something he can hang his hat on. The short answer is no, the goal is to win games, but there’s something to be said about the Panthers’ ability to even be in the position to win.
“We have to find a way to get it done at the end of the game – that’s our job. That being said, I think hanging in there and sometimes coming back from behind shows a competitive spirit.”
Carolina has young talent on both sides of the ball that will serve as cornerstones of the franchise for years to come. They’ll be able to add to that through the draft. Remaining competitive maintains self respect and shows promise. Losing games puts the Panthers in a position to draft their quarterback of the future. That’s the goal. That’s how you build a team that has the level of consistency year in and year out that David Tepper and Matt Rhule are hoping to create.