The Carolina Panthers have hit rock bottom.
High hopes were abound in the offseason. Quarterback Cam Newton was set to become a better leader and build upon his Rookie of the Year campaign of 2011. Center Ryan Kalil took to the Charlotte Observer and guaranteed a Super Bowl XLVII championship.
Prior to Sunday, Quinn had a 52.0 passer rating from the five games he’d appeared in this season. He’d thrown four interceptions, zero touchdowns and amassed 434 yards through the air. His 201 yards Sunday were almost half his total yards of the previous five games.
That’s on the Panthers’ secondary, a phrase that’s been uttered frequently this year.
Cornerback Chris Gamble was the only surefire star in the secondary and he’s been on injured reserve for most of the season—his last game was a Week 4 matchup with the Atlanta Falcons. Without Gamble, this unit has been a punching bag for Jay Cutler, Josh Freeman and Peyton Manning.
That Quinn can add his name to that list shows just how bad it is in Carolina.
But the secondary isn’t the only unit to blame. Carolina’s running back corps hasn’t lived up to its billing, or its paycheck.
The trio of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert were supposed to offer a stout, ground-pounding option for the Panthers. Recently fired general manager Marty Hurney paid $89.211 million to ensure that.
Combined, the three runners now have 765 yards and have scored six touchdowns. Entering this week, 12 running backs in the NFL have bested that total alone.
Quarterback Cam Newton is Carolina’s leading rusher with his 524 yards on the season, and on Sunday he led the Stewart-less Panthers with 78 yards on seven carries.
Newton also threw for three touchdowns on Sunday and increased his streak of games without a turnover to three. After a rough start to the season where he threw five interceptions and fumbled twice in his first three games, Newton has seemingly calmed down and pulled it together. He may even be getting better, progressing as a second-year passer.
Even though Newton seems to be turning his personal on-the-field struggles around, the 2012 season for the Panthers is lost. In fact, lost is a nice way to describe what’s happened.
The Panthers’ coaching staff is already on ice. From mismanaging the running backs to being out-coached on the field on numerous occasions, job security is at a minimum. Hurney was canned in October, and special teams coordinator Brian Murphy lost his job after Week 10.
Mental mistakes on the field—as well as players popping off about several team issues to the media—aren’t getting better.
“If you look at some of the things we did, we made mistakes,” said head coach Ron Rivera in his postgame press conference (via Panthers' official website). “There were a couple of penalties that were costly, bad timing as far as penalties were concerned, and that’s the bottom line. We did some things that were on us.”
Those “things” are likely going to lead to more firings in the future. It’s impossible to enter a season with the hype of a playoff run and lose nine of your first 12 games and expect the coaching staff to remain intact.
With four games left on the schedule, the best possible course of action for the Panthers is to aim the ship in the right direction. There’s no way to fix the past or recover from it at this point, so set the franchise up for 2013.
Get Newton in as many situations as he needs to gain confidence and growth. Do the same for the young players like Luke Kuechly, Brandon LaFell, Amini Silatolu and Josh Norman, who are all likely future keys to this franchise’s success.
The Panthers shouldn’t worry about trying to save face in 2012, or saving jobs. Rivera isn’t going to be invited back. Don’t be surprised to see a full-scale cleaning of the house.
But the youth movement—the promise that was so high in the preseason this year—they will be back. The only way this monumental failure of a season turns into an epic failure is if these young players lose hope.
This is a big-picture situation now in Carolina. The 2012 season is over.