The expectations for the Carolina Panthers this season were accurate. They were not expected to contend for anything meaningful. They were not expected to even be a playoff team. They were expected to lose by huge margins and small. Ironically, this is fine. It’s all part of the process of progress.
When it comes to Carolina and their expectations for this year, their progress isn’t so much measured in wins and losses as it is measuring their strengths and weaknesses – on both sides of the ball.
The Panthers are 4-8 on the year and lost games against the Bears, Falcons, and Vikings that they should have won. A three game swing that would have put them at 7-5 on the year. The games mentioned, and even the 31-33 loss at Kansas City, are results of a team trying to trend in the right direction, but is unsure how to get there. That even shows in the manner of these tough losses.
As Panthers’ owner David Tepper rebuilds the team in his vision, head Coach Matt Rhule is going through his own transitions this season and he’s trying to acclimate to the nuances of the NFL and the ways of the game at this level.
Carolina’s issues that contributed to these losses such as, third down efficiency on offense, being able to stop drives on defense, game management and clutch play is all part of the learning process under a new regime.
There are many examples that point to the Panthers’ faults that contributed to their looses, but the game that embodies where this team is this season the is the week-12 loss at Minnesota. While Carolina struggled on third down efficiency, the defense stepped up and shifted momentum and gained control of the game until the the very last drive. In addition to the defense, the running game kept the offense clicking when the passing game struggled. It worked for the Panthers. They were in control and in great position to win the game until they abandoned the running game too soon, had clock mismanagement by Rhule and insisted on throwing a three-man rush at Minnesota’s hurry up offense during the last drive. Had the Panthers’ made the simple adjustments of returning to the running game and a time out to abandon the rush, it would have been a win.
Details like this are an example of a team that’s trying to figure it out. Luckily for the Panthers, they have some solid players to work with and a coach who cares enough to take accountability for his wrongs and is willing to learn and grow with his players. When a team has those things going for them in a season with not much to show in wins, the “process” would be accelerated sooner rather than later and will also be worth watching and buying into for the future.