The Carolina Panthers lost yesterday for the first time this season. Yet there probably is not a lot of soul-searching to be done.
The Carolina Panthers lost their chance at a perfect season Sunday in Atlanta. They went into the game facing the division rival Falcons with the Falcons needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Panthers were trying to wring home field out of the matchup. The dust cleared and the Falcons won 20-13 in a rather uninspiring matchup between two teams.
So in a sense, I got exactly what I wanted. Odell Beckham left the news cycle. Instead we have people opening questions about the contending status of the Panthers, a great shift considering that ESPN’s Keyshawn Johnson declared us as having ‘no weaknesses’ an hour before kickoff. Now the discussion is whether the Cardinals are the best are the best team in the league and whether Carson Palmer will 11th hour beat Cam Newton for the MVP.
All that from one game. One uninteresting game. The script to a Panthers game played in Atlanta is that the Falcons usually rip out the heart of the Panthers with some big play. It used to be a Michael Vick run, lately it has been the Matt Ryan just tossing it up and seeing if Julio Jones could come down with it. The latter is what happened yesterday. It also provided the winning margin.
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This was a game about defense. There were few turnovers for either side. In the end the Panthers bowed to one pass from Ryan to Jones. The pair were statistically prolific, but their only touchdown was that bomb over the top of Luke Kuechly. For the first time the other team made more big plays in a game than the Panthers.
On the Panthers’ offensive side the loss of Jonathan Stewart for another week was apparent the most. The Panthers managed twenty carries as a team. That is not Panther football. Panther football requires grinding the clock to death to squeeze opponents. The Cam Newton offense developed to utilize the quarterback when all other options fail, but its one weakness if that it leaves too much time for opposing teams to counter, be it Indianapolis, New Orleans, or New York.
So the Panthers were punched in the gut. Not the mouth, the gut. We see what the team that was loving life just a week ago does to handle this pit feeling. In 1996, the Panthers were also riding high but needed a victory against Pittsburgh to secure the division crown and a first round bye. They did it and set the stage for the defeat of defending Super Bowl Champion Dallas.
This year’s squad needs to defeat Tampa to make sure the road goes through Charlotte and not through Tempe.