The Game That Ruined The Panthers

The First Half of a Promising Season

Panthers' fans went through probably one of the greatest seasons an organization could have in 2015, then got utterly stolen from in that totally, 100%, everyone knows it too, rigged Superbowl 50. But it wasn't that game that has put this team in the position they're in today. Fast forward a few years later to the 2018 season. The 2018 season started relatively decent initially and then moved the team into a promising 6-2 record season. In the moment, the Panthers felt like they were returning to their former glory and would retake the NFC with some unbelievable wins. For example, the Giants miracle 62-yard game-winning kick from Graham Gano, one of the most unlikely comebacks against the Eagles, crushing a competitive young Ravens team, and a very high-scoring victory against the Bucs. The Panthers and its fans were on cloud nine and felt like they would be that team again that everyone would have to go through to win. Then the Pittsburgh Steelers game happened on Thursday night of November 8th of, 2018, in the year of our Lord.

The Game

The Steelers were obviously one of the better teams in the AFC with a record similar to the Panthers, so it wasn't expected that they'd beat the Steelers. Still, it was anticipated to be a very competitive matchup. This was one of the most embarrassing and bitter losses Panthers fans sometimes forget. I won't dissect the game too much because the score speaks for itself, with the Steelers winning 52-21. But it seemed as if that game completely crushed every sense of winning the Panthers had in their mindset.

On top of that, whatever shoulder injury Cam Newton already had, got completely wrecked after getting hit every other play, so if the QB can't perform well, the rest of the team won't either. As for myself, I believed that although it was an embarrassing loss, maybe a little humility might be good in the long run for the season. Well, that didn’t happen.

The Quickest Death to a Season (RIP 2018 Panthers Season)

After this game, as bad as it was, the upcoming games seemed like they'd bounce back and stay a competitive team. They did actually remain competitive and had the next five games end within one possession, and in most cases, the very last play of the game.

Unfortunately, the Panthers were always on the wrong side of these games and went from 6-2 for the first half to end the season with a 7-9 record.

That season taught me that no matter how good a team is in September and October, November and December are the months that genuinely matter in an NFL season.

More of the Same

It genuinely felt like after the 2018 season; this was probably the last time that the original core unit from the legendary 2015 season could impact the upcoming 2019 season. We got teased again at the beginning of that 2019 season with a 4-2 record, but then the 49ers decapitated the Panthers with a 51-13 score. The Panthers would go from a 4-2 record to finishing the season with only a 5-11 season, losing head coach Ron Rivera after the Washington loss. Again, the season doesn't matter during September or October. But after the season, it felt the beginning of the end for that old crew that brought us so much joy in the early 2010s.

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New Coaching Regime

The Panthers went a different direction and hired the successful college head coach Matt Rhule. This guy had an idea of what the culture would be, and that idea pretty much would not see any future with that original core team. They released Cam Newton with nothing in return; Greg Olson had to find a new home; Luke Kuechly saw the writing on the wall and retired out of nowhere. All this should have been early red flags, but football fans can be a bit stupid when we have any level of hope.  

Continued Mediocrity

To be direct, Matt Rhule has not been even close to a positive asset to this organization. He decided to bring in Teddy Bridgewater to be the new QB who did not pan out for the 2020 season-ending with another 5-11 record, so they quickly moved on from him to another mediocre QB, Sam Darnold, for the 2021 season. Now they saw early success with a 3-0 start to the 2021 season, but September and October do not matter again. Things quickly fell apart to the point that the Panthers fired Joe Brady, the lauded offensive coordinator that coached up Joe Burrow at LSU, and they even brought back Cam Newton and paid him a decent contract, but none of these moves made any real impact. The team did not improve at all and reached its 3rd straight 5-win season with technically a worse 5-12 record proving things just aren't going to work with Matt Rhule running things. This team will not go anywhere, as the team is, especially if Matt Rhule continues coaching this team. With the Cincinnati Bengals going on this miracle run to the Superbowl this year, it does leave some hope that anyone can make it, but it was shown to get and win the Superbowl; this can only be done with a great QB running the offense, a strong defense that causes great offensive struggles to other teams, and an offensive line that can protect the QB just long enough to make a play.

Fortunately, the Panthers are in a favorable position with their defense. They need to do what they can to maintain this group, but unfortunately, this team is still in the wrong place with questions at the QB position and a weak offensive line.

It's hard to imagine where this team was early in the 2018 season—so much promise and hope for that season and the team's potential future. Then a grim day in Pittsburgh at the Steelers game practically killed the Panthers in that one game, and since then, it's been a complete sh*tshow. And as of writing this article, the mediocrity feels like it will likely continue.

If this Panthers team wins more than five games in the 2022 season, I will be shocked. But sad to say, I don't exactly have much hope for the future as things currently are.  

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