It has become all too common that after the playoffs are out of reach, the Carolina Panthers finally start to play well. In this 2012-2013 NFL season, they had no intention of breaking that trend. Seven of their nine losses have been by a margin of 5 points or less, many of which have been a collapse in the closing minutes. Specifically looking at their losses to the Atlanta Falcons and the Chicago Bears, it was the defense that allowed the opposing teams to get back in the game. This is even more disconcerting since Carolina’s head coach, Ron Rivera, was hired to improve the team’s defense since that was his calling card.
That being said, the “resurgence” of the Carolina Panthers can be greatly attributed to Cam Newton’s play. Even though they are 2-2 in the past four weeks, he has shown glimpses of the brilliance that earned him rookie of the year honors last year. In the past four weeks he has a total of 1,077 passing yards, 286 rushing yards, 8 passing touchdowns as well as 3 more rushing. The most important statistic in that span of time is the number of interceptions he’s thrown, zero. Newton’s turnovers have been the Panthers’ Achilles Heel since the start of his career, but you might be surprised how similar this season has been to 2011 so far.
2011 statistics through week 14:
- 270/452 (59.7%), 3,573 passing yards, 15 TD, 16 INT
- 107 rushing attempts, 554 yards, 13 TD
2012 statistics through week 14:
- 227/390 (58.2%), 3,220 passing yards, 16 TD, 10 INT
- 104 rushing attempts, 640 yards, 7 TD
The number that jumps out the most is the amount of rushing touchdowns, considerably less than the quarterback record Newton set in 2011. What makes this even more curious is the comparison of Newton’s rushing statistics to the Carolina backs. DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert have a combined total of 243 carries, 841 yards, and 6 TD. These numbers are particularly troubling since the organization has invested so much money in these players’ salaries going forward. Newton’s effectiveness through the air this season has been superb given the lack of production in the Carolina running game. Losing Ryan Kalil greatly impacted all phases of the offense, but there are certain parties that have to be held accountable.
The Carolina Panthers were 4-9 through week fourteen in 2011, the same as this season. The lack of explosion in the offense has caused the Panthers to rely much more on their defense than they had hoped to going into this year. However, given the offense’s lack of production and the close margins of each game, the defense has slightly improved. The only thing in this league that matters is winning, and the Panthers have simply been unable to finish games.
This team faces a challenging last three weeks, they visit San Diego, host the Oakland Raiders, then travel to New Orleans for their season finale. Since this team could easily be at 8-9 right now and in the wild card hunt, I personally think that Carolina can win all three. I am not sure that matching last year’s record by winning two more games will secure Rivera’s job for next season, and frankly it shouldn’t. Jerry Richardson is known to be patient for results, just look at Jake Delhomme, John Fox, and Marty Hurney. All three over welcomed their stay, stunting the Panthers’ growth.
Since their current roster has proven that they can play at a high level, the future is now for the Carolina Panthers. With a top five draft pick locked up in the 2013 draft, there’s no reason why their current momentum can’t propel them to bigger heights next season. The only thing that could hold the Panthers back might just be that certain someone on their sideline wearing sunglasses.