And just like that, the Carolina Panthers' season came to an end with a resounding thud.
After a year filled with positives and surprises, occasionally rivaled by a bit of bad luck and misfortune, the Panthers will go home empty handed with a sour taste in their mouths.
I can't bring myself to write a recap for this game so I will simply wrap up the season with a quick editorial.
First, I will list for you, in order, the results of the Panthers 13 possessions on Saturday night:
- Turnover on Downs
Next, I will poll the audience to see if anyone believes that any football team in the history of the game could have had a chance at winning with a drive log that looks like that.
It's one thing to make a couple of mistakes and be able to work through them, but it's another thing to make mistakes just about every single time you have an opportunity.
Next, I'll give a disclaimer. I am NOT a Jake-hater, nor will I ever be one. Some of the comments and views I express in this piece may scream otherwise but rest assured I will still rock my "Jake is My Homeboy" t-shirt.
The guy has done so much for this team and still has a chance to do great things. He had a bad night. Every single quarterback that has ever played this game knows what it's like to have a night like that. Just so happens that Jake's came on a night where the world was watching.
This season has been one of many new things for me as a Panthers fan. For the first time ever, towards the end of the year, the Panthers were a conversation piece in the national media. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have conceived "Double Trouble"—a force that will be prominent for many years, I feel. We have finally found a really good running game, which means that when we run the ball like a team that has a really good running game, it won't seem so off kilter.
For the first time since the mid-'90s when the Panthers were fledglings in the league, the city has shown up and provided enormous support for the team. I can remember attending games in seasons past because "somebody doesn't want the tickets" or because "I've got better things to do." This year, I had trouble finding tickets to any of the games. When the PR people said "Black it Out" they blacked it out (apparently, our defensive coordinator blacked out too).
The Panthers were 8-0 in Bank of America Stadium during the regular season; the only team to go unbeaten at home this year. In the past, it seemed more like a wine and cheese tasting in the stands than a football game but that was not the case this year, and I appreciate that.
This season is also the end of a lot of things I have taken for granted in the past. The owner, Jerry Richardson, is currently in pretty bad shape and is waiting for a new heart. Without Big Cat, this article would not have been possible. Mr. Richardson brought his dream to life, and I'm lucky that he chose Charlotte so that I could watch this franchise grow up with me. Without him, the Panthers just won't quite be the Panthers of old.
Mike Trgovac has been one of my favorite coaches on the Panthers staff for a few years now. Our defense has always been our strongest point and I take pride in that. As this year came to an end, though, it was apparent that our once solid defense had sprung a few leaks.
It was also apparent that the man in charge of plugging those leaks had fallen asleep at the wheel. I don't necessarily want to call for Trgy's head just yet, but unless he can turn it around and figure out how to motivate his guys again in a hurry, I think it's time we part ways.
Since the moment Jake Delhomme took over for Rodney Peete at halftime of the 2003 season opener, he has electrified the position for the Panthers and has been undoubtedly the best quarterback this franchise has ever seen. He led us from the bench to the Super Bowl in '03, and to the NFC title game in '05. While it would be an atrocity for him to lose his job now, the reality remains that he only has one more year on his contract.
Barring some sort of Kurt Warner-like resurrection next year, I don't see the Panthers resigning a 35-year old quarterback. I haven't ever really sat and thought about the possibility of having to embrace a new quarterback as "my quarterback" (please, no T.O. references) but I will likely have to do just that in about 365 days.
Perhaps the biggest thing for me to come to grips with is the fact that Julius Peppers will most likely not be returning to the team next year. For ten years, I have cheered for Peppers as my favorite player on two different football teams and as my favorite bench player on a basketball team. During his three year stint with my beloved North Carolina Tarheels, he was an outstanding defensive lineman as well as a bonafide sixth man on the basketball team.
His size, strength, and athleticism are above and beyond any other athlete I have witnessed during my lifetime (not counting ESPN Classic). For ten years, Pep has been on MY team, and the realization that he probably won't be is tough. How do I cheer against this guy? Guess I'll have to learn...
But, with all of this being said, today starts the countdown to August. Thanks to the Panthers loss, I have just inherited a huge chunk of free time unwillingly and I suppose I will have to find something to do to fill that void. Hopefully planning and preparing for next year through B/R will provide some comfort for losing football, but it won't lessen the sting of Saturday's debacle.
I wish everyone a happy, healthy, insightful off-season and to the four NFL teams still in the hunt, best of luck. As we all know, next year will be completely different from this year, so start getting excited!
And Panthers fans: step down from that ledge, next year should be great to watch.