What was most disturbing about watching the Carolina Panthers lose their opener 16-10 to Tampa Bay on Sunday was that it felt for one Sunday like a return to 2010.
You remember those bitter days with Jimmy Clausen at quarterback. The field seemed 1,000 yards long when Carolina was on offense.
The 2-14 Panthers ultimately averaged just over one touchdown per game and 12.25 points that year. They were so hard to watch offensively that it was the only Panthers season in history and Ive been around for all of them that I truly dreaded going to the games.
Certainly, the Panthers 2012 offense is far more talented than that crew. But in the first game of this season, you couldnt tell. Carolina scored one touchdown and only 10 points, and its 10 rushing yards sounded like the figure a really bad high school team puts up against a state champion.
These Panthers would love their opponent to score only 16 points every game. If their foes had scored 16 points in every game in 2011, Carolina would have gone 14-1-1.
But this time, the offense looked rattled and too often was simply outplayed, especially on the offensive line.
What really got us beat in certain situations (was when) we lost some one-on-one matchups, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.
Said center Ryan Kalil: Not for one second did I think wed only score that much. I think the defense did a tremendous job, especially in the latter half of the game, giving us back the ball. We didnt take advantage of it. (We) kind of killed ourselves.
Tampa Bay put eight men close to the line of scrimmage and dared the Panthers to beat them through the air. Cam Newton did throw for 303 yards, but he also had two second-half interceptions and never could break loose on the sort of drive-extending scramble that became one of his hallmarks a year ago.
And that running game? Carolina left it for dead too early. This team has likely spent more money on its trio of tailbacks than any other NFL squad. Use them!
I know Jonathan Stewart missed the game, yet he still leads DeAngelo Williams in rushing yardage, zero to negative one. But surely the Panthers offensive line isnt that bad, nor Tampa Bays defensive front that good.
Carolina played most of the second half like it was down by 24 points, which meant Newton was too often throwing under pressure.
New Orleans will also try to make the Panthers, the NFLs No. 3 running team in 2011, take chances through the air Sunday. The Saints were torched by Washington for 40 points in a loss in their opener. Robert Griffin III threw for 320 yards, but just as importantly the Redskins ran for 153.
The Panthers, so creative a year ago on offense, need to get back to basics. Run the ball. And run more max protection, with seven men blocking, if they have to so Newtons jersey stays clean.
The Saints are obviously vulnerable on defense and still very good on offense.
Ten points wont get it done against New Orleans. Twenty probably wont either. To beat the Saints, the Panthers will likely need to score 30 at home.
And thats very possible. But thats the thing about this offense. It turns out there is a very wide range of possibilities, including performances that dredge up the awful past from 2010.