The Carolina Panthers are a disappointing 2-6 at the midpoint of their 2012 season, but a few things have gone right. Heres a look back, as I select my midseason bests and worsts.
BEST PLAY: Armanti Edwards buried on the bench for most of his 2½ years at Carolina had an 82-yard reception on a pass from Cam Newton that helped clinch Sundays road win over Washington. It was the longest play of the first eight games for the Panthers.
WORST PLAY: Lots of candidates here, but Ill go with safety Haruki Nakamura allowing a 59-yard pass to Atlantas Roddy White in the final minute on Sept. 30. The Falcons were down 28-27 and backed up on their 1 with 59 seconds and no timeouts left. Nakamura had one assignment on that drive dont let anyone behind you and blew it.
All we had to do was keep the ball in front of us and not let anyone behind us, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said at the time. And we screwed that up.
WORST COACHING MISTAKE: Again, lots of choices. But Riveras decision not to let strong-legged Justin Medlock even try a 51-yard field goal on the final play of the first half against Chicago is still a puzzler. Rivera later said part of the reason he instead went for a Hail Mary (which Newton threw out of the end zone) was that he didnt want a possible miss to get into Medlocks head. The Panthers ultimately lost by a point.
Honorable mention: The soft zone coverage dialed up by Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to allow the Bears to slant-pass their way down the field to a game-winning field goal. There was way too much time left (2:20) for that strategy.
BEST PICKUP: Dwan Edwards wasnt even on the team in training camp the Panthers picked up the nine-year veteran as a free agent on Sept. 2 after Buffalo released him. The defensive tackles inside push has been stellar and he has five sacks, which doubles his previous career high.
BEST TREND: The Panthers defense has improved dramatically and has scored two TDs this year (pick-sixes by Charles Godfrey and Captain Munnerlyn) after not getting a single return TD in 2011.
WORST TREND: Cam Newtons fumbling including a very critical fumble against Atlanta that would have sealed that game had Newton held on and gotten the first down (a lot of readers on my Scott Says blog, in fact, picked that over Nakamuras mistake as the Panthers single worst play so far).
Newton has already fumbled eight times in eight games this year (losing three). Last year, in 16 games, Newton fumbled five times (losing two).
BEST CAM MOMENT: Newton was magnificent against New Orleans, throwing for 253 yards with a QB rating of 129.2 and rushing for 71 more yards in the Panthers only home win so far.
WORST STAT: The Panthers are 1-10 under Rivera in games decided by seven points or fewer, including 0-5 this year.
BEST COMEBACK PLAYER: Thomas Davis in a landslide. Count me as one of the skeptics about Davis becoming the first NFL player to return from three ACL surgeries on the same knee. Yet here he is, starting and lasting a lot longer this season than his fellow offseason workout buddy Jon Beason (on injured reserve again).
WORST INJURY: Losing Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil for the year was a big one, significantly dampening the offensive lines effectiveness.
BEST ROOKIE: Luke Kuechlys tackling is so pure that youre only surprised when he misses one. Its no coincidence that the Panthers defense started playing better once Kuechly was moved to his natural spot at middle linebacker. Hes a future Pro Bowler.
Honorable mention: Cornerback Josh Norman, who has been beaten some but is already starting and has the sort of aggressiveness a player at his position needs.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Charles Johnson. Big Money has been earning it big-time with 7.5 sacks in eight games, including a startling 3.5-sack game vs. Atlanta. Now Johnson has been made a captain, too, because of Beasons injury it would be very beneficial if he could show some more leadership in the seasons second half.
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Steve Smith. On pace for a 1,260-yard season and still a major force at age 33. Only quibble: No. 89 has scored just once in eight games.
WORST THROW: Cam Newtons one-hopper at home to open tight end Ben Hartsock in the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1 against Seattle with Carolina trailing 16-10 and 3:47 left. It looked like Newton was attempting to skip a rock.
BEST GALLOWS HUMOR: In a stunner, former Panthers general manager Marty Hurney was fired by owner Jerry Richardson when Carolina started 1-5. A number of reporters were wishing Hurney well following his goodbye teleconference when Hurney lightened the mood, cracking: Its not like Im dead.
WORST CALLS IF YOURE A PANTHERS FAN: A back-to-back pair in the Dallas game, when officials first gave the Cowboys a very questionable timeout (it appeared the play had already begun) on fourth down and then missed a pass interference call.
BEST CALL IF YOURE A PANTHERS FAN: An inadvertent whistle on DeAngelo Williams 30-yard touchdown run vs. Washington should have put the ball at the Redskins 17, the NFL said this week. Instead, officials allowed the TD to stand.
WORST DISAPPEARANCE: Where art thou, Joe Adams? After three fumbles in 14 touches, the rookie who was supposed to revive the Panthers return game has been deep in the doghouse.
Honorable mention: DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
BEST CONCENTRATION: Tight end Greg Olsen has played solidly (hes second on the team in catches with 34) while he and his wife were immersed at home and at the hospital with the health problems of their infant son TJ. Godspeed to all the Olsens.
WORST SLIP: Smiths fall against Chicago on a pass route gave the Bears an easy interception and a cheap touchdown.
WORST PUNT: Brad Nortmans horrid 6-yard effort at Soldier Field was the beginning of the Bears comeback from 19-7 down in the final quarter.
BEST PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE TWEETS: After Williams saw his role reduced dramatically by Rivera, the running back retweeted a series of messages from fans, most of the How could they have done that to you? variety.
WORST PREDICTION: Kalil took out a full-page ad in The Observer in the preseason that forecast the team would win the Super Bowl.
Honorable mention: Me. I absolutely just cant figure out these inconsistent Panthers week to week and am 3-5 predicting their game outcomes so far. I will say this for the 2012 Panthers they make every Sunday interesting. Like Forrest Gump and his fabled box of chocolates, you never know what youre going to get.