Larry Fitzgerald: A Panthers Nightmare

Where it All Started - Deja Vu All Over Again!

At around 1pm eastern time Sunday, we’ll all settle into our favorite seats

wherever they are – Bank of America Stadium, a couch, a recliner.  We’ll be subjected to a 4-win Arizona Cardinals team quarterbacked by John Skelton and a 1-12 Carolina Panthers team…oh, you know the rest.

If you get a sense of deja vu while watching, don’t worry.  A lot of us will get that feeling.  It’ll come each time Larry Fitzgerald, with his dread locks flowing out of the back of his helmet, catches a pass and rips through our secondary.

Sunday will mark a rematch on the same field that we saw on what may go down as a date in Panthers’ history which will live in infamy – January 10, 2009.

We all know the basics – Carolina 12-4 and a number two seed; Arizona 9-7 and a four seed.  But it was that game, that moment where our slide toward this 1-12 train wreck that we’re currently witnessing began.

The Panthers were a solid team coming into that game but there was a problem.  They were aging.  Key players were nearing the end or were beyond their primes.  It was hard to see then but this was a team whose window of opportunity was closing – and fast.

We entered the 2009 season feeling pretty good about ourselves despite the playoff loss.  The Panthers had 20 of 22 starters returning from a 12-4 team.  Little did we know that the clock had run out in January of 2009.  A quick look back at some of the key players in that game:

–  The meltdown of Jake Delhomme in that game was one of the ugliest things a sports fan could ever witness.  Yet, the off season came and the team signed him to a new 5-year deal.  He never got his mojo back.  Worse yet, there was, as has been the custom in Charlotte, no effort to locate his successor outside of Matt Moore.

–  This season has been about youth especially at wide receiver.  Yet after losing to Arizona, with Muhsin Muhammad in his mid-30’s the team didn’t make a move to bring in his eventual replacement.

–  Ma’ake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis held down the middle of the defensive line.  The problem – Kemo tore his achilles during the ensuing training camp and was placed on IR and has since been released while Lewis was aging and was handed his walking papers.

–  The secondary was impacted as Ken Lucas was jettisoned while Chris Harris also faced his 30’s and that became a bad age to be during the off season of 2010.

–  A saga was just about to boil over as Julius Peppers was set to become an unrestricted free agent.  Slapped with the franchise tag and kept around for one more season at $1 million per game, he stewed all season waiting for his next opportunity to get out of town.

–  The running game was chugging along coming into that playoff game.  But a major cog in its success, Brad Hoover, had already been with the team for nine years and had taken a tremendous amount of punishment.  In another year, the organization would view him as expendable.

Of the 53 players on the Panthers’ 2008 53-man roster, 28 are no longer with the team while 4 others are on injured reserve.  A full 53% of the roster is gone.

We saw it in January 2009, nearly two years ago.  We just didn’t know it.  The beginning of the end.  On the opposing sideline were the Arizona Cardinals.

When the two teams meet this Sunday the changes for our Panthers and, for that matter the Cardinals, will be evident.  That match up of John Skelton versus The Deuce may not be scintillating but you just never know if what we’ll be witnessing is the beginning of something good, the groundwork for a franchise’s future.

Either way it’s going to be deja vu all over again.

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Tags: Arizona Cardinals Brad Hoover Carolina Panthers Chris Harris Jake Delhomme Jimmy Clausen John Skelton Julius Peppers Ken Lucas Larry Fitzgerald Matt Moore Muhsin Muhammad

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