Eleven weeks into the 2012 season, it seemed as though all hope was lost for the Carolina Panthers.
They were sitting at the bottom of the NFL standings with a 2-9 record, and questions about Cam Newton's maturity were swarming. Suddenly, the Panthers turned things around after this point, and what looked to be a lost season for a weak team turned into a solid year for a team that was simply on fire by season's end.
The Panthers ended the season with a 7-9 record, finishing off with an enormous amount of momentum. Cam Newton played especially well down the final stretch of the season, which enabled Carolina to pull off a couple of huge confidence-boosting wins late in the season.
As Carolina begins the offseason, no Panthers player should be hanging their head. The team is still in somewhat of a rebuilding mode, but the future looks ever so bright, and here are five reasons why Carolina Panthers fans should be looking forward to a promising 2013 season.
Nobody in the entire National Football League had more tackles than linebacker Luke Kuechly this past season, as he amassed 164. In fact, the competition was not even close, and the next closest challenger was San Francisco 49ers LB Navarro Bowman with 149.
Kuechly has not received enough praise for his fantastic play this season and may be one of the more underrated players in the league.
In just his first NFL season, Kuechly became the anchor for the Carolina defense. His addition has helped the defensive woes that the Panthers struggled with mightily during the previous season.
The linebacker made some big plays and was able to force a number of turnovers. Kuechly tied for the team lead in interceptions, picking off two passes. He also recovered three fumbles, good for sixth in the league.
The rookie linebacker from Boston College made an immediate impact for the Panthers. He will only continue to grow stronger and should soon become the leader of the Carolina defense.
Carolina was red-hot by the end of the 2012 campaign.
The Panthers ended the season by winning five of their final six games. One of those victories came against the Atlanta Falcons, who had lost only one game all season before Carolina pulled off the shocking 30-20 upset at home in Week 14.
During that winning stretch for Carolina, Cam Newton was also playing his best football of the season. Over the last six games of the year, Newton had 14 total touchdowns, and threw just two interceptions. After a rough first half of the season, Newton and the Panthers really stepped it up during those final six contests.
Carolina finished the season by going out with a bang, and this strong finish should give some confidence to the young squad heading into next season.
Many can criticize Newton over how he handles losing and also for his lack of maturity at times, but nobody can question his amazing athleticism and the remarkable stats that he has put up in just two seasons. In his first two seasons in the NFL, Cam Newton has already shattered a number of records.
After breaking Peyton Manning's rookie passing yards record, Newton broke another record held by Manning this season. Newton has thrown for 7,920 yards over his first two seasons, which now stands as an NFL record, previously owned by Manning. Furthermore, his 62 total touchdowns during that time are the second most behind the legendary Dan Marino. That is some pretty good company.
Though his overall passing numbers dropped slightly from last season, Newton was able to limit his amount of interceptions, throwing five fewer picks than he did in his rookie season.
The sky is the limit for Cam Newton, and he will only get better as his maturity level grows.
The Panthers were able to run the ball effectively again this season. This comes as no surprise with a backfield comprised of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert as well as one of the games most lethal dual-threat quaterbacks. Carolina scored 21 rushing touchdowns in 2012-13, which was third best among all NFL teams.
In their final win over New Orleans, DeAngelo Williams had a coming out party, busting out for 210 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Still, Newton actually led the team with eight rushing touchdowns and 741 yards on the season. Tolbert fulfilled his duties as the goal line back, bulldozing his way to seven rushing scores.
Part of the reason why Newton did not rush for as many touchdowns this year was because of Tolbert, which is a good thing. By not forcing Newton to be the goal line threat, perhaps it will help to prevent him getting an injury.
The Panthers should undoubtedly be one of the best rushing teams in the league next year as well.
It seems like Steve Smith has been in the league forever, yet he still manages to produce at an elite level.
This past season was Smith's seventh time going over 1,000 yards receiving in a season. At the age of 33, Smith still managed to haul in 73 catches for 1,174 yards—both team highs—and four touchdowns.
Last season, when Cam Newton first arrived, the two instantly clicked and became a lethal combination. The veteran receiver definitely made it a little easier for Newton, as Smith's speed matches Newton's throwing strength perfectly.
Steve Smith has had an amazing career and will go down as one of the most exciting players to watch in Panthers history. Fortunately, his career is not done just yet though.