The Carolina Panthers (1-3) were optimistic entering Sunday’s contest at University of Phoenix Stadium against the Arizona Cardinals (3-2). They were coming off a bye week following a huge win at home against the New York Giants. But dropped passes and not protecting the quarterback ended their hopes, as the Cardinals won 22-6.
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said the offensive line has to do a better job of protecting quarterback Cam Newton, who was sacked seven times, and play-makers have to make plays. Steve Smith had two drops and Brandon LaFell had one in the first half in key situations.
Unfortunately, this was one of those “winnable” games coaches like to talk about. Win this, and your record is 2-2…winning becomes contagious. Look at the next three games on the schedule – next week’s game at Minnesota (quarterback problems), followed by a home game against St. Louis (all kinds of problems) and then a road trip to Tampa Bay (management/coaching/quarterback problems) - are also very “winnable”. So, the Panthers could have been 5-2 heading into a November 3 home game against division rival Atlanta. But they won’t be…I think they will be 4-3…because I am very, very optimistic.
After that, let’s count on losing at San Francisco and at home in a Monday-night tilt against New England. They close out November at Miami, in a game I just don’t see them winning. December’s schedule (home vs. Tampa, at New Orleans, home vs. New York Jets and New Orleans before ending at Atlanta) is not easy. Maybe 2-3 at best.
The reality…8-8 would be a great season…and mediocre football will not win the NFC South. They will end up with 5-11 or 6-10 if they continue to play like they have.
So there you have it. I’m writing them off…but stranger things have happened. I think this team has a lot of talent. Their front four on defense is excellent. They have good linebacking headed up by Luke Kuechly. Offensively, Newton can be a force. Greg Olsen is a very good tight end. Ted Ginn, Jr. has just too much talent not to be playing at a higher level. Steve Smith is as tough a receiver as you will find. That offensive line, however…if they continue to play like they have, Newton will just not have the time he needs to find his receivers, and that will lead to more of the same.
- Olsen, the team’s leading receiver entering Sunday, had five catches for 79 yards in the first half. He was not targeted in the second half.
- Newton was also under considerable pressure in the second half. He was sacked four times in the half and seven times in the entire game, which tied a career high. At one point in the first half Newton had a quarterback rating of 113.8. He finished at 47.8.
- The Panthers have gotten off to slow starts now three consecutive years, and this one could cost Rivera his job. In fact, word is that the Panthers have already begun a quiet search for their next coach, according to reports this morning in The MMQB, Peter King’s outstanding pro football website.
Here’s What They’re Saying:
Panthers’ wide receiver Brandon LaFell: “He (Newton) played well under a lot of pressure and got banged up a couple of times. We got to make plays for him. I had a drop, Smitty had a couple drops, everybody had drops. Whenever you get chances on this team you’ve got to make plays and we didn’t make plays for him so good game by him, we’ve got to pick our game up as the skill players.”
Panthers’ wide receiver Steve Smith: “Blame the loss on me. I’m the scapegoat. Blame Steve Smith. It’s all Steve Smith’s fault.”
Panthers’ head coach Ron Rivera: “You have to give credit to them as well. They pressured the quarterback and we didn’t make the plays when we had opportunities, that’s probably the biggest reason. Whether it’s by design as far as the defense is concerned with their coverages or we missed a throw or we dropped the ball. We can’t have that.”
Rivera on missed opportunities: “Steve’s going to make plays for us, he’s going to make a lot of plays. And unfortunately he dropped one that he had an opportunity to catch. Same thing with Brandon LaFell. … These are guys that can’t do that in certain situations..”
Rivera on the lack of touchdowns produced by the Panthers: “Sometimes when you don’t score touchdowns it takes the wind out of your sails and you have to settle for the field goal.”
Panthers’ offensive tackle Jordan Gross on yet another slow start to the season: “Unfortunately, we’ve been here before. The last two years were similar to this and we ended up winning games at the end. So I don’t worry about anybody quitting. But we’ve got to figure out how to win games in October. Not winning now and then winning in December doesn’t do you much good.”
Gross, being brutally honest regarding his offensive line: “Anytime we give up sacks, the O-line didn’t block the guys. There’s a lot of ways I could try to spin it, but if the quarterback is getting sacked, it’s because the offensive line is not blocking well enough.”
Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton: “There are a lot of things that I feel I could have done better. Getting the ball out is one of them. I feel as if in both halves we had our opportunities. We’ve got to do a better job, well, not ‘we.’ I have to do a better job at protecting the ball and putting this offense in a better situation.”
Panthers free safety Mike Mitchell, who had one of three Panthers interceptions against Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer: “We had an opportunity to be 2-2, keep a win streak going, go on the road with another winnable game (against Minnesota). We were in second place. We had a lot to gain by winning this game. These are swing games. You win this one, now you’ve got two in a row, it could turn into five, six, seven games. Now you win one, you lose, you win, you lose – you don’t want that. That’s how you end up 8-8.”
Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer, who threw three interceptions but still got the win for Arizona, had high praise for the Panthers’ defensive line afterward: “That is the best front four we have played so far. It’s probably the best front four we will play for awhile. I know Seattle’s good, but I don’t know if they are that good.”
Palmer on the real reason Arizona won: “We are fortunate to get 22 points. Our defense, with the safety and with the field position really helped us out.”
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