Hot and Cold: Carolina Panthers Continue to Find New, Fun Ways to Lose

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Carolina Panthers vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 02: Outside linebacker Lavonte David #54 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sacks quarterback Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers during the first half of the game at Raymond James Stadium on December 2, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Will Vragovic/Getty Images)

On November 4th, the Carolina Panthers were leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35-14 heading into halftime of their eighth game of the season. They would win this game 42-28, bumping their record to an impressive and competitive 6-2. Heralded as the third best team in a stacked NFC race, the Panthers were considered as legitimate title contenders. Fast forward one month and you’ll see one of the worst collapses in team history.

The Panthers have lost four straight games. At 6-6, a team that was once a lock for the NFC Playoffs will need to win the rest of their games (and get help) to sneak into the 6th seed spot. Head Coach Ron Rivera has found himself, once again, on the hot seat. The Panthers have found more ways to lose than ever before. Its hard to point the finger at just one player, coach, or position group. The team just hasn’t been able to play complementary football, and it’s cost them dearly.

Over this stretch of four losses, the Panthers have a -7 turnover differential. A stark contrast from what had been a +8 margin in the first half of the season. Carolina has shot itself in the foot and the ball has rarely bounced its way over the past four games, a recipe for absolute disaster in this league.

I wish I could stay positive and tell you that I thought this team would still make the playoffs but something doesn’t feel right. Sure, Ron Rivera is one of the best coaches in the game when his job is on the line, but I don’t feel like the heart is there anymore.

I attended the Buccaneers game this past Sunday, sitting about eight rows up from the Panthers bench at midfield. The team looked dejected throughout the game. They looked like they didn’t want to play anymore. Heads down. No communication. No one firing anyone up. Complete and utter defeat. It feels like 2018 is a lost cause at this point.

However, I still have a glass half full approach: Carolina is chock full of young playmakers that will be giving defensive coordinators headaches for years to come. If Cam Newton can stay healthy, this team has real potential to be an offensive force over the next decade. We can start with the small glimmers of hope before getting into the real deep rooted issues this team currently faces.

Hot:

Young Offensive Playmakers

Wide receivers DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel have shown that they are capable of being absolute playmakers in Carolina for the long haul. In 2017, Panthers wide receivers combined for 1,922 yards and 13 touchdowns. In 2018 through 12 games, Moore and Samuel have combined for 893 yards and 8 touchdowns. They’ve sparked this passing game and have given Cam Newton legitimate weapons on the outside for the first time since the days of Steve Smith.

Christian McCaffrey has also been nothing short of phenomenal in his sophomore season, as he is only 111 yards short of breaking the Panthers record for all-time scrimmage yards held by Deangelo Williams. With all of the questions surrounding him as a durable player and a between-the-tackles runner, McCaffrey has spat in the face of his doubters (you know who you are) with consistent efficiency in every aspect of the game. The scary part? He’s only going to get better.

With a young core of standouts on the offensive side of the ball still playing on their cheaper rookie contracts, it’s time for the Panthers to go all in while they still have Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly. Carolina has a window to win, it would be a shame if it was wasted.

Hot scale: Shooting star emojis

Ron Rivera’s Seat

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Ron Rivera is on the verge of being fired and needs to win a string of games to preserve his job and Carolina’s playoff chances. For some reason, Ron Rivera always puts forth his best product when he’s about to be canned. At this point in the season, it seems the only thing that can save Rivera from the wrath of new owner Dave Tepper is making the playoffs.

To make the playoffs, the Panthers almost assuredly will have to win out. This will include beating the Browns and Saints on the road (where the Panthers are 1-5 this season), the Saints on Monday Night Football (after losing to the Steelers by 100(?) points on primetime earlier this season), and in New Orleans for a Week 17 game that could or could not have playoff implications for the Saints. I’ll tell you what, if Rivera and the Panthers do end up making the playoffs this year, they’ll have damn earned it.

Hot scale: Enough to make you go for it on 4th and 1 on your opponents 20-yard line.

Cold:

Cam Newton (sigh)

I hate to do this when he’s been having such a fantastic season, but on Sunday in Tampa Bay, Cam Newton lost the game for the Carolina Panthers. He may have taken a beating, no thanks to his offensive line, but at this level, there is never an excuse to turn the ball over four times, especially on your opponent’s side of the field.

I still have no hesitations about Newton and how far he has come as a professional quarterback in every essence. His development on and off the field have honestly been inspiring, and it’s been a pleasure watch him “grow up” since his rookie year. Here’s to hoping he gets that shoulder right and ends up with another shot at a Lombardi before it’s all said and done.

Cold scale: 1c1c1es (aka frozen dr1p)

Greg Olsen’s Right Foot

Greg Olsen has had a hell of a career. To think he was traded to Carolina for a third-round pick from Chicago eight years ago is insane. When Greg went down on Sunday, I watched him come off the field and can’t even describe to you the look on his face. It told me he knew it was done.

He’s had a fantastic career (Hall of Fame, in my opinion) and I’d hate for it to end this way. He’s fought hard and, from what I understand, has been one of the most passionate, team-first players that this franchise has ever had. There is a faint glimmer of hope that Greg may return next season and fight for another chance to ride off into the sunset, but a very small percentage of players get to have that privilege in this unforgiving league.

Greg Olsen is one of the best Carolina Panthers of all time and will be missed dearly. Ian Thomas has huge shoes to fill moving forward. Thank you for everything, Greg. Some broadcasting booth should be getting a great one.

Cold scale: Jason Witten’s arms frozen at a ninety-degree angle when he talks during Monday Night Football

Pass Defense:

This pass defense has been tough to watch. Considering how well the offense has played this year, for this pass defense to be minced week in and week out is infuriating. Pass defense is an encompassing term, including the pass rush AND the secondary. Both have been awful, completely avoiding complementing each other every step of the way. If one succeeds, the other, almost assuredly, will break down. There is not much to say about Eric Washington, other than the fact that he was not ready for the responsibilities of an NFL defensive coordinator. Hopefully, with Ron Rivera taking the reigns of this defense, we see some major changes in the style and energy of the group.

Cold scale: Soft as snow

Main photo:
Embed from Getty Images

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