It’s unusual for fans to root for their team to lose, but heading into the matchup against the Washington Football team that’s exactly what Panthers Nation wanted – setting up a potential top-3 pick for the team in next year’s NFL Draft. Sunday, Carolina killed that noise, defeating Washington 20-13.
It was never in the Panthers’ plans to tank. All week heading to the contest, head coach Matt Rhule and players made it clear the goal was to win their last two games. After the contest, Rhule said it rarely works well for teams who purposefully lose to improve draft stock. Establishing a winning culture is more important.
“I think teams that have historically tried to lose to improve their draft pick – it hasn’t really worked out for many teams. Winning franchises win. They win at everything. It’s hard for me to even think that way, because my mind doesn’t work that way. We’re here to win. We have a locker room full of guys who want to win. They’ve won their whole life.”
“I think to me, for all these guys, we’re trying to teach them what it takes to win,” Rhule continued. “You go out in the field, you don’t beat yourself and you find ways to get things done. I think we did that tonight.”
The Panthers continue to improve on the defensive side of the ball – holding Washington to just two field goals for the majority of the game. They also forced two fumbles and intercepted opposing quarterback Dwayne Haskins twice. From kick-off, Carolina was the more physical team. It was clear the Panthers had a different edge to them.
“The biggest thing we did was impose our will,” quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. “We said we wanted to make it a physical game. It was a playoff atmosphere. We knew that those guys were playing for something big and we knew that coming in we wanted to be a physical team. We talked about how we’ve responded well all year when teams come out and hit us in the mouth and I think it was a great job of us just coming out and playing fast today.”
“We had a chip on our shoulder,” cornerback Donte Jackson added after the win. “We knew we had to come in and play playoff football. Put the records out the window, put what happened in the past out the window, put any game, any bad play, any good play out the window and just come show up and play playoff football.”
With the win, the Panthers fell from picking 4th in the NFL draft to picking 9th. That’s a gut-wrenching drop to many who hoped Carolina would have a shot at drafting their quarterback of the future. While Carolina may not be in the running for Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields or even Zach Wilson, all hope is not lost. The Panthers could move back up in the draft with a loss against the Saints and the six teams ahead of them getting wins. Not likely, but Matt Rhule and company weren’t going to lie down anyway. Just like they played spoiler to Washington’s hopes of clinching a playoff spot Sunday, they’ll look to prevent the Saints from sailing into the post-season with a first-round bye.