The NFL season has officially ended for the 2011-2012 Carolina Panthers and it ended with a dud of a game. Carolina was unable to compete with the red-hot New Orleans Saints, as they were able to roll over the Panthers with relative ease. The defensive woes of the Panthers finally caught up to them against an elite offense. But Sunday’s game shouldn’t sour a relatively productive season.
I say productive in a way that shouldn’t be measured by wins or losses, and instead in the growth of the team. Carolina went from a 2-14 team with no hope to 6-10 with plenty of hope looking towards the future. Despite having no offseason to prepare, the Panthers’ coaching staff was able to get this team to compete week in and week out for the most part. That was something that wasn’t the case a season before under John Fox in which the Panthers were routinely beat by double digits.
Let’s take a look at what we learned from this season.
Cam Newton is a franchise quarterback
This one is obvious but needs to mentioned. The Panthers entered this season hoping that Newton would develop and would someday be a franchise quarterback. Little did they, or anyone know, that the rookie would go on to break numerous records and become the face of the franchise so soon. But that’s exactly what Newton did and his inspiring play has fans of the Panthers dreaming of a Super Bowl one day.
What is so exciting going forward for the franchise is that Carolina doesn’t have to worry about finding a quarterback for a long time. This will allow Marty Hurney and Ron Rivera to focus on other positions when the draft rolls around. It takes a lot more than a quarterback to win in the NFL and the Panthers will get the opportunity to start filling holes.
Rob Chudzinski is an offensive genius
Who would have thought that in one year the Panthers would go from one of the worst offenses in the NFL to one of the best? A lot of the credit has to go to Chudzinski, who adapted to the versatile Newton and came up with a variety of plays that suited his style of play best. What was most impressive, though, was the improvement he made as an offensive coordinator as the season went along. Early in the season the Panthers threw the football entirely too much, but as the year progressed Chud started to reel in the passing game and focused more of the attention on the running game. Once the Panthers started running the football more they started to win football games.
Chud’s brilliant season of calling plays could mean that he winds up a head coach. In my last post I predicted that he would stay but with seeing how many coaching opening there are he may be gone. Hopefully, Jerry Richardson gives Chud a nice raise and he is willing to stick around for another season, which would be beneficial to the continued development of Newton.
In defense of the defense
So we all know that the Panthers defense was atrocious this season, yet I can’t help but think what it would have been like if Jon Beason would have been anchoring the defense the entire season. It may not have resulted in more wins but you would think that the defense would have been more respectable.
Going forward the Panthers must add playmakers to the defense. The draft is the most realistic place to do this and with the eighth pick there will be difference makers available on the defensive side of the ball. While fans will want the Panthers to make a sexy pick and add a wide receiver, the smart decision would be to give Sean McDermott a talented player to work with. If the defense is able to step up next season and be around the middle of the pack, and the offense continues to improve, the Panthers will be a playoff contender.
Special teams wasn’t so special
A rough season from Olindo Mare has drawn the ire of many fans but let’s not forget about the coverage issues the Panthers had throughout the season. Carolina’s poor coverage in the kicking game really let them down against Arizona, Tennessee and Chicago. There could be other games that are slipping my mind, but those are the ones that stand out.
If the Panthers wouldn’t have allowed Patrick Peterson and Devin Hester to beat them they would have likely finished with two more wins on the season. Throw in Mare’s key misses that cost the Panthers a chance at going to overtime against Minnesota and a lead against Atlanta late in the game and you have a team that may have been in the playoffs had it not been for poor special teams.
Finishing 6-10 isn’t the worst thing in the world, though, as it will allow Carolina a chance to add another talented individual come April.
That’s a wrap
There were ups and downs throughout the season but one thing was always consistent: The Panthers were exciting to watch again. A playoff berth will have to wait and another season will go by without Carolina winning a Super Bowl. Even with all of that being said, the Panthers are a team on the rise and that is a win in itself.
Just think that of where the Panthers were a year ago at this time and how you felt. Now compare it to how you feel today. Let that feeling of optimism override the feeling of disappointment over another losing season.