Seeing this look on Ron Rivera is never a good thing
The Carolina Panthers hosted the Seattle Seahawks in a pivotal game before heading into their bye week. While the defense held the Seahawks to 16 points, the Panthers were unable to get anything going offensively and fell to 1-4 on the season.
The way the game played out and the ineffectiveness of some key players left this game to be summed up simply as an epic failure.
Carolina had its chances despite playing bad football, and their window at making a postseason run is closing fast. The Panthers probably have three or four more losses before they are completely out of the hunt—and with their remaining schedule, it will not be easy.
After a game like this one, it is hard to put together a lot of positives and identify winners in the wake of so much negativity and poor performances. Oddly enough, the winners are all defensive players given that there was nobody on the other side of the ball who stood out—at least not in a good way.
While there may be others warranting mention on this list, here are the ones that stood out the most in Week 5.
Captain Munnerlyn was admirable in his role on defense. Normally playing in the nickel slot, he started in place of the injured Chris Gamble and scored the only touchdown for Carolina in the game.
The Panthers secondary was giving up a lot yards through the air and it seemed as though Russell Wilson would have his way with it. However, Munnerlyn took matters into his own hands on Seattle's first possession of the the third quarter by intercepting Wilson and taking it back 33 yards for the score. This would put the Panthers up 10-6.
Munnerlyn did his part to keep Carolina close and eventually a chance to win the game. Unfortunately, the offense couldn't do enough to secure a victory.
Along with the pick six, Munnerlyn finished the day with three tackles.
Batted balls. Overthrown receivers. Poor blocking. The Panthers failed to generate much offense in the first half and were lucky to head into the half only down by three.
Carolina didn't have a snap inside Seattle territory until late in the second quarter and were only able to muster three points from what was their best drive of the half.
Cam Newton didn't help his team one bit with his production, recording a stat line of 3-of-15 for 40 yards. His quarterback rating was a paltry 39.6. Part of the reason the Panthers were able to generate a scoring drive at the end of the second quarter was because Newton decided to start making plays with his feet instead of with his arms. He closed out the half with 37 rushing yards.
It should be noted that he set career lows for first-half production. His three completions were a career low after one half of football and his 20 percent completion rate was his lowest in the first half since Week 14 of last year against the Falcons.
The offensive line was horrid, allowing the Seahawks to generate a constant pass rush and failing to open up running room for the Carolina running backs. This has been one of many common themes defining the Carolina offense so far this season and it has been detrimental to the unit's production.
The Panthers only held the ball for 10:32 and were 1-of-6 on third-down conversions. It's hard for a team to establish its will and control the game if it cannot hold on to the ball and convert on third down.
While Kuechly is a starter, this was his first game at middle linebacker. Jason Phillips was expected to start in place of Jon Beason but it seems that Kuechly may have been better suited given his familiarity with Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson.
Kuechly looked like a leader on the field, directing his teammates on where to line up, and despite the major chunks of yardage they gave up he seemed comfortable in the role of defensive field general.
He showed great awareness in the third quarter by intercepting a bobbled ball from the hands of Marshawn Lynch. While this turnover may have kept the game close, it was unfortunate that Carolina was unable to take advantage and put points on the board.
In addition to his interception, Kuechly tallied 11 tackles and provided the coaching staff with the confidence that they can start him at the Mike linebacker position.
There is no other way to describe their collective performances other than frustrating. To say the running game was off today would be putting it mildly. Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert put up rushing numbers of 16, six and three yards, respectively.
Cam Newton led the rushing attack with 42 yards.
Not only was the running game ineffective and pathetic, their contributions in the passing game left a lot to be desired. All three running backs seemed unable to get a handle on the football when it was thrown to them, essentially dissolving screen passes and short-yardage passing situations.
If that wasn't enough, both Williams and Stewart had a case of the fumbles. Williams' fumble turned out to be very detrimental as his was the only Carolina fumble lost on the day and led to seven points for the Seahawks.
This was arguably the worst game for the Carolina backfield given the reputations of the men who comprise it. The strongest asset of the offense was the weakest link on this day.
Couldn't find a picture of Hardy sacking Wilson, so here is one from last week.
Where Charles Johnson lacked, both Greg Hardy and Antwan Applewhite came through. Overall, the Panthers seemed to lack a pass rush, but credit the efforts of Hardy and Applewhite for stepping up.
Hardy seemed to be written off a couple weeks back after subpar play and was barely showing any signs of the defensive player he was last season. Over the past couple of weeks he has changed his stripes and made his presence felt in opposing backfields. He recorded six tackles, one for a loss and a sack.
His performance today was reminiscent of the potential he showed as a rotational player in 2011, and with any luck will continue to build off his recent success.
Applewhite had a great game in situational plays. He had four tackles and a sack and along with Hardy provided the only good news on an otherwise bleak day for Carolina.
Compared to last week the play of the defensive ends had a regression of sorts, but Hardy and Applewhite did enough to give the Panthers an inkling of a pass rush. If Johnson and the interior line had been as effective, chances are the game would have turned out differently.
Carolina had a very good chance at going ahead late in the fourth quarter. The offense seemed to be finally clicking and moved the ball along, setting up first and goal with 5:18 left to play. Cam Newton did a great job of distributing passes between Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Greg Olsen to get the Panthers deep in Seahawk territory.
Unfortunately, the drive and momentum stalled inside the Seattle 10-yard line. A short pass to Louis Murphy set up a 4th-and-goal on the one but the Panthers could not punch it in as Newton's pass to Ben Hartsock was under thrown.
The Panthers were given another opportunity when Seattle had to punt with 53 seconds left on the clock. A high snap resulted in a safety and the Panthers took over at their 31 following the free kick. Carolina's final drive only lasted two plays—an incomplete pass to Jonathan Stewart and Newton being sacked and fumbling the ball, resulting in a Seattle recovery.
Carolina had two opportunities to win this game late in the closing minutes, their next-to-last drive being their best chance. Whether it was poor execution, shoddy play-calling or a combination of the two is left up for debate.
The bottom line is the Panthers wasted away a great chance to come back in this one, which could have been a huge boost for the team headed into its bye week. Instead, they will need to review what is working and what needs to be addressed.