Absolutely nothing about the stats from this next to last game of the season will cause NFL scoreboard watchers to change their minds about either the Panthers losing record, or that *someone* has to win the NFC East. The Panthers received enough good pieces offensively, and victimized the Washington Football Team’s Dwayne Haskins (two INTs, 1 fumble, 154 yds. passing) defensively in a 20-13 victory, although Washington still controls their playoff destiny.
For those who worried about Christian McCaffrey getting “used up” after last year, and being offensively awesome the last two years, you sort of got your wish in 2020.
While RB Mike Davis (14/28 yds, TD) has played effectively, and Teddy Bridgewater (19/28, 197 yds, 1/1 TD-INT; 3,557 yards for season) has been a terrific distributor to all of Joe Brady’s offensive options, operationally the team protected its asset for the lion’s share of the 2020 season. If CMC was on a Rams team with playoff hopes, he’d have been back weeks ago – but at what risk of injury was a primary consideration for the Panther organization.
There’s not a specific right or wrong to the decision, and surprisingly, there wasn’t any hue or cry to saddle CMC back up along the way, ankle or not. Mr. Tepper is a businessman of the highest order, and putting Matt Rhule at the coaching helm involved as serious an investment contract-wise as McCaffrey. He’s a billionaire who handed his new coach a six year contract, and adding a proven, exceptional, 100% right weapon to the mix they’ve developed, there’s plenty to think about over the winter.
If you heard Rhule’s done some remarkable turnarounds with a couple college programs – Tepper noted “He’s done plenty with a lot less” – that attitude is still on track. Like COVID-19 and current travel negatives, letting the offense grow through the strain may pay dividends when actual fannies are in the seats in 2021.
Betting with house money: Give an A+ Achiever-type like McCaffrey a season to think about how he’s going to prove he deserves the cha-ching! from extension, he’ll be back strong. He’s literally not broke – I saw the shoulder injury; that ankle, always tricky to figure – but he won’t need to be on the field 90% of the snaps if the Panthers take care of Davis and free-agent-to-be Curtis Samuel.
This was a strange year for everything, playing in almost empty stadiums. Sunday night, in the snow at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, less than 1,000 front line health workers and families got to be in the stands, as Aaron Rodgers polished his MVP cred. Quite a few more were willing to take their chances with the Chiefs to see Mahommes.
METRICS of Improvement
Having predicted 6-10, seeing a Panthers defense that’s done WAY better than last year is gratifying. In 2019, the floodgates opened wide, the long adored, QB-sacking, unblockable D of Kuechly and Davis demonstrably gone, giving up 470 points and 29.4/game.
New defensive coordinator Phil Snow arrived from Baylor with Rhule, and while the offense is barely a point better this year without McCaffrey (22.9 ppg, 23rd), the defense is ranked 18th of 32, giving up almost five less points (24.6/game) in 2020, when only the lowly Dolphins were worse.
Quick question: The Browns are 10-5, the Panthers 5-10. Who’s going to feel worse if they fail to make the playoffs because FOUR receivers were benched with COVID protocol, after they hot-tubbed together?
That’s a gratitutous question – how about Jeremy Chinn (110 tackles) for Defensive Rookie of the Year? While playing on the same field as Washington’s DE Chase Young, the #2 overall pick last year, he notched eight tackles to Young’s four, and while Young caused and recoverd a fumble, Chinn’s hybrid safety-linebacker role had THE defensive series of the year several weeks ago, scoring touchdowns on consecutive plays.
2020 offense effective, not ‘magic’
What’s not to like about Bridgewater, Robby Anderson, DJ Moore, and the leap in market value Curtis Samuel has taken this year, where four catches for 109 yards, and 7/52 rushing sounds like he’s gotten the sort of exposure that might otherwise have been directed at the treasured standard, McCaffrey? Does he NEED to be on the field 90% of snaps?
Bridgewater has even shown the willingness to leave the pocket and get yardage with his legs, a very different perspective after former Panther star QB Cam Newton’s last two years, when his size and speed advantages seem to have disintegrated. While Newton staggered to his 12th rushing TD of the season for the Patriots, https://patriotswire.usatoday.com/2020/12/29/cam-newton-wowed-with-this-rushing-touchdown-vs-the-bills/ he has 5 TDs and 10 INTs passing on the year, and based on the Bills secondary KNOWING he couldn’t get it down the field – the same situation as Cam’s last two years in Charlotte – he is probably done in the NFL.
Mike Davis impressed early, and his running with a chip on shoulder toughness also set a standard for the team. He’s racked up over 1,000 offensive yards, 652 keeping defenses honest on the run, and was a fine free agent signing, as was Robby Anderson (from Jets) by (again) departing General Manager, Marty Hurney. Whether Hurney is being moved out after giving McCaffrey a bonus-heavy contract extension before a season of small production is less likely than how Cam Newton’s payout with Patriots worked.
Hurney previously left after it seemed he’d overpaid on contracts for some fan favorites, but CMC’s value is unquestioned – and Hurney didn’t make that decision by himself.
Watching the offense move the ball consistently and with such variety at times became the essence of home town cheering, and expectations were they’d keep things interesting even though the defense might cost them games. Since the common draft started in 1967, the Panthers became the first team to use all seven selections for defensive players this spring, including #1 pick DT Derrick Brown, then traded up to make Chinn their second, 2nd round pick. The results weren’t questioned at the time, and a replenished secondary seems more capable.
The 33-31 loss to the Chiefs and Mahomes did nothing to disappoint the idea Panthers could score, even during a five-game losing streak. They held the Cards Kyler Murray in check, blew opportunities against the Broncos with dumb penalties, and let the Vikings game get away from them 28-27. https://www.espn.com/nfl/recap?gameId=401220302 Optimism isn’t gauche, there’s a sense Charlotte has perhaps seen the worst of times, that “The Buckle on the Bible Belt” won’t become like Detroit, where Lion’s GM Matt Millen’s reign was, well, almost legendary lousy compared to Hurney.
A home finale against the Saints for that important sixth win for Panthers will be worth watching , but sorry, I’m a fan of #9 as GOAT, with due respect to Mr. Brady and all his rings. I really like the home team, but Drew is about out of chances to get another ring, and while he might stay on the sidelines if there’s no possible change in seeding, HE sure isn’t taking anything for granted in 2020.
Interesting stat: The Panthers have used their #1 pick on QBs twice – Kerry Collins early, and of course, Cam Newton in 2011 – since landing the franchise in 1994. If you’re concerned that Teddy Bridgewater isn’t ‘the guy,’ Washington has used twelve #1 picks on quarterbacks (over 75 years), and the last one that really worked out was Sammy Baugh, their leader for 16 years – until 1953. https://www.profootballhof.com/players/sammy-baugh/ Chicago and Detroit have been unblessed with major talent there in a lot longer than 20 years Tom Brady ruled in New England. Five or six wins will put the Panthers past a time to get another franchise quarterback in the draft
If you can’t remember how last season looked at the end, https://cdtalententerprises.com/2020/04/28/cam-luke-greg-are-gone-will-defense-draft-be-the-answer/
Glenn Shorkey – Creative eDitorial Talent Enterprises