The Carolina Panthers (1-3) have reached the first-quarter mark in the NFL season, and though September did not go as well as they would have liked, there is still room for optimism inside the Carolina locker room if not in the media.
The Panthers lost a season-opening road game they were expected to win, beat Drew Brees and the surprisingly winless New Orleans Saints in Week 2, laid an egg at home against the New York Giants in a prime-time Thursday night game in Week 3, and came within less than a minute of knocking off the undefeated Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome in Week 4.
To call September 2012 a month of wasted opportunities for the Panthers would be an understatement, especially after posting a 1-2 mark in NFC South divisional play when they could have, and perhaps should have, won all three games.
Carolina's 38-7 loss to the defending Super Bowl champs in front of a national television audience was an anomaly that should not repeat itself again this season.
Cam Newton is not slumping and their running game did not disappear, but several elements of the Panthers offense have been underwhelming, or at least inconsistent, so far this season.
The defense has not improved significantly, either, despite the return of Jon Beason and Thomas Davis at linebacker, the beefed-up presence of veterans Ron and Dwan Edwards at defensive tackle and the addition of rookie starters Luke Kuechly and Josh Norman.
And the Panthers' special teams have continued to be less than special, though the punt and kick coverage units have largely kept returners in check after giving up four touchdown returns (on three punts and a kickoff) last season.
The first quarter of the Carolina Panthers' season has been remedial at best, but it has not been a total failure.
Here is a look at the Panthers' grades at each positional unit through the first four weeks of the 2012 NFL season.