The 2012 NFL season was a massive disappointment for the Carolina Panthers. After improving to 6-10 the previous season with then-rookie quarterback Cam Newton and the new coaching staff, the 2012 iteration of the Panthers looked poised for a playoff run coming into the season. ESPN's Adam Schefter picked Carolina to make the postseason, as did a few NFL.com and NFL Network analysts.
Carolina entered the season as a sleeper team with playoff aspirations, but finished a disappointing 7-9, tied for the worst record in the seemingly top-heavy NFC South. Here are the five biggest disappointments from the 2012 season.
After finishing 30th in the NFL in punt returns with a 5.5 yards per return average in 2011-2012, the Panthers seemingly found their long-term solution when they selected Arkansas’ Joe Adams in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. Adams had been named the 2011 SEC Special Teams Player of the Year and was college football’s most explosive return man.
But, instead of helping Carolina’s special teams, Adams served to epitomize their continuing struggles. In his first three games, the rookie fumbled three returns, losing two of them, and the Panthers responded by benching him for the next six games. Adams returned later in the season and lost a fumble in Week 16, giving him four fumbles in just 20 returns as a rookie.
One of the biggest disappointments for the Panthers this year was the inability to put their best lineup on the field. While injuries are a given in the NFL, Carolina was hit by a rash of devastating injuries in October when center Ryan Kalil, corner back Chris Gamble and linebacker Jon Beason were all placed on injured reserve within a two-week span.
Kalil was the anchor of the offensive line, Beason the heart of the defense, and Gamble the best player in the secondary. Carolina lost of number of close games as three of their most important players watched from the sideline.
Carolina entered Week 13 with a disappointing 3-8 record and a favorable matchup against the 1-10 Kansas City Chiefs. The game was played the day after Kansas City player Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend then took his own life, giving the game added meaning to the struggling Chiefs.
Kansas City’s inept offense had averaged just 10.4 points over their last seven games before facing the Panthers. But Carolina’s porous defense allowed quarterback Brady Quinn to have one of the best games of his career, going 19 of 23 for 201 yards and two touchdowns, as Kansas City dominated time of possession with over 37 minutes to defeat Kansas City won 27-21.
After beating the Panthers, the Chiefs scored a total of 23 points in their final four games to finish 2-14 on the season.
After a stellar rookie season, expectations were extremely high for Cam Newton heading into 2012-2013. In a disappointing development, Newton failed to make any noticeable progress on their field or as a leader.
On the field, Cam’s quarterback rating and yards per attempt improved slightly, while his completion percentage, passing yards and touchdowns all decreased. He ran the ball this year as effectively as he did as a rookie, but found the end zone fewer times. Newton’s production was still good, but the Panthers were hoping for great.
Newton also failed to grow as a leader. Teammate Steve Smith ripped him for sulking during Carolina’s embarrassing Week 3 36-7 loss to the New York Giants. After Carolina’s Week 7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Newton again showed his lack of leadership by calling the game plan “boring” and asking for a suggestion box for the media to solve Carolina’s offensive woes.
The unraveling of Carolina’s season began in Week 4 when the 1-2 Panthers lost a soul-crushing game to the 3-0 Atlanta Falcons.
Carolina led 28-27 with just over two minutes left. However, they failed to pick up a first down to run the clock down and we forced to punt. With just 59 seconds left, Atlanta had the ball on their own 1-yard line with no timeouts remaining, nearly assuring Carolina of a big divisional win. But the Panthers inexplicably gave up a 59-yard bomb to Roddy White and ultimately a game-winning field goal for Atlanta.
Instead of a 2-2 record, Carolina fell to 1-3. The loss lingered over the Panthers as they dropped their next two games and were never able to overcome a 1-5 hole to begin the season.
Additional disappointments this season included:
1. The bittersweet firing of long-time general manager Marty Hurney.
2. Losing innovative offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who became head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
3. Carolina's inability to find a reliable kicker after cycling through Olindo Mare, Justin Medlock and Graham Gano in the past year.
4. Watching the Panthers get humiliated under the glare of the national spotlight, losing 36-7 to the New York Giants on Thursday Night Football.