Many may remember the scene in Wayne’s World where they did a product review of the Suck-N-Cut (a spoof on the Flowbee, a device owned coincidentally by my father-in-law). Mike Myers’ character, Wayne, appropriately remarked that the device “certainly does suck.” After Sunday’s second peek at the Panthers, fans are reaching similar conclusions.
So, where does the blame fall for Sunday’s not so surprising heartbreaker? Unlike like last week’s fumble to a loss against Seattle, Panther fans are hard pressed to find a silver lining in last Sunday’s debacle. The wheels seemingly came off the bus at all levels.
Under constant pressure, the offensive line had little answer for Mario Williams, who reminded Buffalo fans today why they paid him the big bucks. The Bills’ defensive line got after the quarterback when it counted. Although DeAngelo Williams exposed weaknesses in the Bills’ run defense, Buffalo consistently pressured Newton on passing downs, causing the Panthers to squander good field position and scoring opportunities. Surprisingly, it didn’t seem as the offensive line played terribly bad. The piecemeal group blocked well for the running backs and gave Newton sufficient time to get through his progressions. Newton simply held onto the ball far too long and Mike Shula seemed interested little in adjusting blocking schemes to account for Super Mario.
C.J. Spiller also frustrated what appeared to be a stout defense coming into Week 2. Certainly, Panther fans will cling to Luke Kuechly’s dominance as a ray of future hope. He did however have a devastating pass interference penalty, which ultimately led to the Bills victory. Nevertheless, the defense did not make the stops when it counted. E.J. Manuel dink and dunked the Panthers to death, and Spiller broke bad, averaging 6.4 yards per carry with a 46-yard run in the fourth quarter. Sunday’s Panthers run defense resembled that of last year’s more than Week 1′s.
Knowing when to let Cam run continues to elude the Panther coaching staff. Last year, former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski struggled to find the correct balance between Cam the passer and Cam the rusher. Shula has signaled a more reserved approach towards Newton to this point. His conservative use of Cam in Week 1 sparked mild criticism of his vanilla play-calling against Seattle. Shula took this to heart (a lot of the urging of head coach Ron Rivera) and went downfield several times. The effort seemed forced though. Newton took plenty of shots deep with occasional success, but the big play focus appeared more prayerful than potent. Shula avoided designed quarterback runs, preferring low probability long bombs. A well-timed quarterback draw will keep opponents honest. We are all wondering if he will have time to figure the ratio out.
Nicked and bruised, the secondary continued to be a major weakness for the Panthers. Inconsistent play at safety and a young group of corners, whose inexperience exacerbates their athletic limitations, has let opposing teams in the endzone at the most inopportune moments. Charles Godfrey has been late with help in two consecutive games. Luckily, Captain Munnerlyn made a nice play to break up a deep ball that he should have intercepted if he had been in position. In the end, a confused Panthers secondary allowed the Bills easily in the endzone for the win with six seconds left.
Completing tackles and defensive stands remains problematic for the Panthers. Even Thomas Davis, always the big hitter, failed to wrap up Manuel for a loss that would have stunted the Bills comeback. Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods, and C.J. Spiller successfully extended plays beyond the first level of tacklers.
Unlike last week, Cam looked hesitant, unsure and simply lazy at times. He repeatedly telegraphed passes that led to one interception and several missed opportunities for more by the Bills. Newton looked as what his critics have been stating—raw, unpolished, and lacking the mental prowess to succeed at this level. While Cam showed some poise as he marched the Panthers downfield for a late first half score and connected on a deep touchdown pass to Ted Ginn, Jr. in the second half, his performance was marred by indecision and his continued refusal to get the ball out quickly.
Tinder for Rivera’s firing builds amongst Panther fans. The more than unlucky 2-14 in games decided by six points or less is the most glaring characteristic of his head coaching career. The, at times, annoyingly laid back Rivera has squandered close games with his “not lose” instead of “must win” approach. Sunday’s fourth quarter debacle was reminiscent of the loss at home to Atlanta last year. Panther Twitter and sports blog chatter in the aftermath of the game indicates little love for the current coaching staff by the fans.
As Garth cried out in Wayne’s World, “It’s sucking my will to live” while enduring the Suck-N-Cut. Sundays continue to suck Panther fans’ will to cheer.