After a last minute field goal from Matt Bryant put the Falcons ahead 30-28 with seconds to spare, the Panthers scrambled to make one more miracle play. Unfortunately for them, the folly of laterals lasted just a few seconds before the ball went out of bounds and time expired, dropping the Panthers to 1-3 on the season.
Last year the Panthers finished with a 6-10 record, but the team was in a “rebuilding stage” with a new rookie quarterback in Cam Newton. Heading in the 2011 season nobody gave the Panthers a chance and rightly so, but after a stellar rookie season from Newton, one could argue the Panthers were going to be a contender in 2012.
Before the season even started, offensive lineman Ryan Kalil took out a full-page ad in the Charlotte Observer promising a Super Bowl. For a team that finished the prior season 3rd in their own division, that was an pretty bold statement.
Thus far in 2012, the Panthers only win comes against a winless New Orleans Saints team. In Week 1, they were beaten by their division rival, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were thought to be rebuilding in 2012 with new coach Greg Schiano; it was a disappointing start to say the least. The most shocking statistic from that game was that a relative unknown wide receiver, Kealoha Pilares, led the team in rushing with only 5 yards.
In Week 2, the Panthers rebounded with an offensive explosion from Newton who had 253 yards and one touchdown through the air and 71 yards and a touchdown on the ground. It proved to be just enough to escape with a 7 point win over New Orleans.
Week 3 for Carolina was the sorriest performance the team has seen in some time. In a nationally televised Thursday night matchup against the New York Giants, the Panthers were abused in every aspect of the game. Newton threw 3 interceptions and the offense only mustered up 60 yards on the ground.
The black-and-blue defense was beat up by the Giants' offensive backups. The only highlight offensively for the Panthers came on a 1-yard touchdown dive late in the 3rd quarter. Though the Panthers were still down by 20 at the time, Newton didn’t fall to perform his trademark superman celebration after the score.
From that came backlash from the Charlotte media. The following Monday a newspaper cartoon mocked Newton by portraying him doing his celebration with a Hello Kitty t-shirt underneath his jersey rather then a Superman logo. During the week it also became public that veteran wide receiver Steve Smith and Newton were not happy with each other.
When Week 4 rolled around, the Panthers looked to put all the drama behind them and make a statement by beating the undefeated Atlanta Falcons. The upset came up just short, but the team did see a solid performance from their second year quarterback, who had 215 yards passing and two touchdowns through the air, while also rushing for 86 yards and a score on the ground.
After what has been an up and down four weeks in Carolina, where do they go from here? Next week the Panthers match up well against a tough Seattle Seahawk team. The key is getting their run game going, while shutting down the Seahawk running game. The Seahawks like to control the clock with Marshawn Lynch, and if they can slow him down, it is doubtful rookie quarterback Russell Wilson will be able to beat them through the air. I’m betting on Carolina in this one.
The following week is the Panther’s bye week, but afterwards they face three tough teams to bring them to the midway point in the season. In order, they play Dallas, Chicago, and Washington, all tough matchups. To me Dallas and Chicago look like losses. Both teams have a defense capable of shutting down Newton.
In total defense, Dallas is currently ranks No. 1 in the league with the Bears not too far behind in the No. 5 spot. The Dallas offense is highly over-matched against the 24th ranked Panthers defense. Though Chicago’s offense has been poor the season, with a healthy Matt Forte their offense no longer is one-dimensional. You can chalk up two more losses for Carolina in weeks 7 and 8.
Wrapping up the midway mark for Carolina is a match-up against an oddly similar team in the Washington Redskins. This is a tough matchup to call, but because Washington’s offense has been more consistent thus far this season, I’m predicting yet another loss for the Panthers. That would put them at 2-6 going into Week 10.
The Panthers look lost, and it seems like they rely too much on Newton to win games. Though I have Carolina at 2-6, with a strong performance against Seattle, they could get some momentum going and steal a game or two from a better opponent in the following weeks. I’m doubtful Carolina rebounds from their 1-3 start though; it looks like it's going to be a bruising season for the boys in black and blue.