The furor over “Tie-gate” did one favor for the Panthers this past week – it largely stopped the general public from talking about Carolina’s most complete and embarrassing loss of the season.
Seattle bullied the Panthers by the score of 40-7 a week ago. And, if Carolina doesn’t show any life Sunday at home against San Diego after that whipping, then this team really has no pride left.
At 4-8, Carolina’s postseason chances are toast. But a quarter of the season remains to play. This is not an unusual situation for the Panthers historically – longtime fans will remember many Decembers like this – but it has not come up recently.
Carolina has been involved in the postseason scramble the past three seasons, ultimately making the playoffs every time. The oversized wreaths on the snarling black panthers outside the stadium have looked positively jolly the past three years, with fans knowing their favorite team was going to be playing meaningful football well after the holidays.
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Not this time. The Panthers have blown it in 2016. Despite a core of key players that I still believe you could build another Super Bowl team around – it could happen sometime in the next 2-3 years – Carolina has managed to lose almost all its close games this season. And in a league where half the games are traditionally decided by a touchdown or less, if you don’t win most of the close ones, you just don’t win.
San Diego (5-7) has a familiar problem. The Chargers have surrendered fourth-quarter leads in five of their seven losses. They are the AFC’s version of the Panthers, brimming with talent at several important positions and still losing. It probably doesn’t surprise you that Carolina leads the league in points allowed in the fourth quarter (11.5 on average) and that San Diego is second in the same dubious category (10.2).
Carolina has given up more points in the fourth quarter in 2016 than any other NFL team. San Diego is No. 2 in the same category.
Last week, though, was a totally different story for the Panthers. The fourth quarter didn’t matter to Carolina because the first three quarters had gone so horribly. Cam Newton’s dress-code violation became big news in part because there was so little else the Panthers did that was newsworthy. How many times can you say the Panthers’ secondary and offensive line have struggled all year? How many times can this season be unfavorably compared to the last?
So now we have these four games remaining before the Panthers shut it down and watch everyone else in the playoffs. Even after all their injuries, the Panthers have enough talent left to at least go 2-2 in these four.
But if they lose some of these remaining games by scores like 40-7, some people working at Bank of America Stadium right now are going to get fired. And should be.
What I didn’t see a week ago in the Panthers was much fight. And no matter who’s on the field for this final month, that simply can’t happen again.