The Carolina Panthers are a mess. There is no disputing the facts. A week after claiming victory over the Washington Redskins at the nation's capital, the Panthers once again fell at home, this time to the Denver Broncos. The loss drops them to 2-7 on the year and quite possibly into the discussion regarding the top pick in April.
In order for the Panthers to repeat their record from last season, they will need to go 4-3 the rest of the way—and while that isn't a tough task, the makeup of the team could turn it into a challenge. With games against the Buccaneers, Eagles, Falcons, Chargers and Saints still on the docket, it's very unlikely they will win two games, if any. It doesn't help that three of those games are on the road.
Many people didn't feel the Panthers stood a chance against the Broncos with Peyton Manning leading the way, but there were those who felt an upset could be in the cards, especially on the heels of a big win against Washington. Unfortunately, that team didn't show up Sunday.
So, what did Carolina's loss teach us in Week 10?
The defense had its moments against Denver, including a sack of Peyton Manning at the hands of Charles Johnson, but this unit really stood no chance. Credit Manning for keeping the defense on its heels and guessing as the unit looked lost at times. Manning's pass to Brandon Stokley for their first touchdown was evidence enough.
Luke Kuechly did his best trying to neutralize Manning, but it was not meant to be as the rookie posted his lowest tackle numbers since moving over to the middle. However, his fellow linebackers James Anderson and Thomas Davis brought the same level of physicality to the game—but it wasn't enough.
As predicted in an earlier article, this game was not close, and aside from the first few minutes of the game, the Panthers were never in it.
One thing that has become more and more noticeable around the league and media outlets everywhere is the lack of respect for Cam Newton. His celebration antics and negative sideline demeanor have caught the ire of a lot of fans and players who haven't held back their criticism.
Von Miller went a step further and said (via USA Today) that if he got to Newton during the game, he would do Newton's trademark celebration. We didn't have to wait long as he did just that following a sack in the first quarter. Later in the game, Tony Carter mocked Newton's Superman celebration after his pick-six, which put the Broncos up 24-7.
Newton needs to knock off celebrations and his sideline attitude and start embracing the role of a true field general. Granted, the Broncos threw a lot of different schemes and blitzes at him, but he should know enough now to not make the same mistake over and over.
Reviewing hours of game film only goes but so far, and if Newton can't get himself together on game day, his future will not be a bright one in this league. He needs to work with his receivers, get the timing down and establish a rapport with the offense as a whole if he is going to re-establish the Panthers as the offensive threat they were a year ago.
Greg Olsen had a career day against the Broncos and was perhaps the only bright spot of an otherwise dismal day. He had over 100 receiving yards and two touchdowns, essentially accounting for all the scoring done by Carolina.
While his overall stats on the season aren't something to get excited about, he has 43 receptions for 497 yards and three touchdowns. He is among the team leaders in catches and scores. If it weren't for the fact he lacks speed, chances are he would have more receiving yards, but he is strong and has been a tough person to tackle.
This season he has proven his value to the team and made the trade the Panthers made for him well worth the cost. He has given Newton a security blanket and has become a dangerous weapon when utilized correctly.
Given his reputation as being the most reliable player (when thrown to) in the offense, he probably has the best shot at a Pro Bowl nod but may come up short with the likes of Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis staking their claim in the NFC.
Criticism of the Carolina coaching staff has been abundant this season as fans and players alike have been very vocal about the play-calling and the results (or lack of) produced on the field. While everyone on the coaching staff is on the hot seat, Rivera's is becoming increasingly warmer with every loss.
Offensive coordinator Rob “Chud” Chudzinski needs to find a solution for the offensive woes and get his unit back on track—otherwise he will be on the receiving end of a pink slip when the season ends. His offense, which was one of the league's best last season, is merely a shell of its former self—and what makes it frustrating is that he virtually has the same personnel comprising the unit.
Sean McDermott probably stands the better chance at keeping his job when the season concludes, and a lot of that can be attributed to the improved play of his defense.
A 36-14 shellacking at the hands of the Broncos surely didn't help his employment prospects, but most of us would be willing to concede Denver had a very well-coached and quarterbacked offense at its disposal Sunday.
If McDermott's defense can bounce back and continue to do what it was doing the last couple weeks prior to Week 10, then he could find himself still gainfully employed. If they collapse, well he might as well pack his things and polish his resume.
Finally, there is the head coach.
Ron Rivera seemed to be the ideal choice when he was brought aboard at the end of the 2010 season, but he will need a lot of help if he is to repeat last year's record, and even that may not be enough to keep his job. He is one of the coaches who will need to dig deep if he wants to keep his job in Carolina.
The proverbial Dennis Green moment can be met as the understatement of the year given how Carolina's lofty preseason expectations have come crashing down in grand fashion.
The offense is nowhere close to what it was last year, the defense has played better after the losses of key players Jon Beason and Chris Gamble and the special teams are still a work in progress.
It is probably a safe assumption that even those who predicted Carolina to finish between 6-10 and 8-8 didn't envision a team that would struggle to the extent it has this year. Playoffs are off the table and Carolina fans are finding themselves discussing offseason trades and the draft in preparation for the 2013 season.
There is still no telling how this year's Panthers will finish, and given their inconsistent play all season long it shouldn't surprise anyone if they fall flat on their collective faces the rest of the way and end up with one of the league's worst records.
Some will cling to hope that something can be salvaged from this season, but most have already accepted the inevitable.
After several months of speculating and years of asking, the Panthers finally debuted an all-black uniform sans the helmet, which remained the same silver. The new black pants in addition to their black home jersey looked really sharp Sunday and was probably one of the few highlights of the game.
There is no telling if the Panthers will wear them again this season or on the road for that matter, but it was nice to see another uniform change other than the new logo that was leaked prior to last year's Pro Bowl. Assuming the black pants stay, Carolina will probably wear them twice a year in either an all-black ensemble or with the blue jersey.