Carolina Panthers crumble in 30-24 loss

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 15: Christian McCaffrey #22 of the Carolina Panthers walks off the field after their game against the Seattle Seahawks at Bank of America Stadium on December 15, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 15: Christian McCaffrey #22 of the Carolina Panthers walks off the field after their game against the Seattle Seahawks at Bank of America Stadium on December 15, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

For the ninth time in the disastrous 2019 season, the Carolina Panthers tasted defeat–this time at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, 30-24.

Sunday’s loss marks the sixth-straight defeat for a team that at one point this season had high playoff aspirations under Ron Rivera and upstart backup Kyle Allen. Just two months ago, the Panthers reeled off a 5-1 record in Allen’s first six starts, looking as though the team could find itself in the thick of a muddled NFC playoff picture.

The heady days of Carolina as a potential playoff team are long gone now. Rivera was unceremoniously fired following the team’s loss to the hapless Washington Redskins in Week 13. The next week they were eliminated from playoff contention following their second loss to the lowly Atlanta Falcons. Then, with three morbid interceptions against Seattle, the once-bright future for Allen now seems nothing more than a distant memory.

The statistics of the game are irrelevant, as was the closeness of the final score.

The ability of the Panthers to draw close late speaks more to Seattle’s willingness to let bad teams linger than it does Carolina’s tenacity to compete. Without fail, every critical moment in the game seemed to go in Seattle’s favor: a long conversion on a critical third-down late in the game, and securing turnovers to stymie any sort of momentum for the Panthers.

Kyle Allen of the Carolina Panthers
Kyle Allen #7 of the Carolina Panthers (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Case in point: with the game still technically in doubt closing in on the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, Seattle had two long first-down conversions nullified by penalties before moving the chains on their third attempt. When the Panthers needed a critical stop to get the ball back and have a chance to win, the defense wilted.

Such is the story of the 2019 Carolina Panthers, a team with such promise entering the season. Odd-year magic could not spare the team from one calamity after another, beginning with crippling injuries to Cam Newton and Kawann Short, to every type of loss imaginable: blowouts, inexplicable showings against bad teams, and multiple games decided on goal-line stands. The team guaranteed themselves a losing record with the loss to Seattle on Sunday.

With another loss on the calendar and two difficult games remaining against the Colts and Saints, questions abound over the future of the franchise.

Conflicting reports regarding the future of the injured Newton are just the tip of the iceberg: interim head coach Perry Fewell remains winless since taking control of the team following Rivera’s firing, and yet somehow is still believed to be auditioning for the long-term head-coaching vacancy. Beyond Fewell, many question whether general manager Marty Hurney is on the hot seat after the team dramatically underperformed in 2019.

For Panthers fans, the immediate concerns revolve around whether the front office believes that a rebound year in 2020 is possible. Halfback Christian McCaffrey and wideout D.J. Moore present a venerable 1-2 punch for the offense moving forward; Moore has quietly compiled a breakout season, entering the day fourth in the league in receiving yards. McCaffrey meanwhile continued his brilliant 2019 campaign with two touchdowns and more than 150 yards from scrimmage. One would think that the presence of All-NFL linebacker Luke Kuechly and newly-extended Shaq Thompson would provide some stability on defense as well.

Despite the presence of talented players on both sides of the ball, underperforming veterans and undeveloped young players continue to drive the team to mediocrity. Injury concerns, most notably Newton’s, continue to haunt the team, leading many to wonder what could have been given McCaffrey’s historic season.

If a rebuild is in order, there is a possibility that Newton may have played his last game in Carolina.

Despite the past two seasons, multiple teams in the league could take a flier on the former league MVP, and a rebuilding franchise looking to shore up its draft capital could unload the quarterback in the last year of a team-friendly deal. Whether or not owner David Tepper seeks to embrace a losing mentality while a rebuild takes place is another question. Likewise, so is choosing to rebuild or reload. Any time a fan base celebrates a loss over a win on account of bettering draft position, it reflects just how bitter and jaded fans have become.

Panther fans have become accustomed to an Allen fumble or interception when the game is on the line, just as they have become accustomed to watching the defense yield a critical first down late. Just a short time ago, the Panthers were considered as one of the most dangerous teams in the league in short-yardage situations. Now, short-yardage situations seem to be as complex and incalculable as a Hail Mary or onside kicks.

If it hadn’t been before Sunday, all hope has now been lost for the 2019 season; all that remains to be played for is draft position and team pride–or at least what remains of it. Fans continue to ask tough questions about the future of the team, but no concrete answers have been given. For Panther fans, a gloomy season stretches on into the holidays, mercilessly filling their stockings with coal. The campaign continues on next weekend when Carolina travels to face the Colts in Indianapolis.