As the dust settled on a gut wrenching 33-13 defeat to the Arizona Cardinals in the 2008 NFL postseason and a promising 12-4 season ended with an almighty thud all in one moment, the fate of the Carolina Panthers changed.
The ripples in the pond have carried forward to this 2010 football season, affecting the Panthers fortunes. The team has had to endure the loss of veteran leadership at several positions, but the playoff game was the beginning of the end for the Jake Delhomme administration in Charlotte.
The 2009 season was a mixed bag, as John Fox stayed true to Delhomme until things became too damaging to the psyche of the team, paving the way for Matt Moore. Moore, although a competent NFL quarterback, lacks the kind of elite intangibles and leadership skills to be anything more than a stopgap at the quarterback position.
The 2010 preseason brought with it a great deal of optimism, not only because of the way Matt Moore ended the 2009 regular season with an impressive 4-1 record, but also the excitement that came with the drafting of Notre Dame pocket passer Jimmy Clausen, a prospect who fell to the 48th overall pick despite being highly ranked by supposed draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.
At 1-11, the Carolina Panthers are no closer to knowing the future of the quarterback position when they look at the current roster. Jimmy Clausen has showed flashes of promise here and there, making some good NFL quality throws; and at other times he has been rather ordinary. Tony Pike was a luxury pick if ever I have seen one: a low risk, likely low reward prospect who couldn’t even get the starting nod over Brian St. Pierre who was basically signed off his sofa at home. Matt Moore is on injured reserve and will probably be departing from the team as a free agent at the end of the season.
Enter quarterback Andrew Luck, a player who his current head coach Jim Harbaugh believes has a unique blend of skills that every great quarterback needs. Harbaugh calls Luck the coolest customer in the clutch he has ever seen at the position. Luck has led his Stanford Cardinal to an 11-1 record and an Orange Bowl berth, but Andrew Luck has to have the potential of being the #1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft on his mind.
Granted, Luck stated publicly back in October that he will more than likely stay in school, but the quarterback has nothing more to prove at the college level. Recently, scout Rob Rang of CBS Sports said that Luck may be the best player at any position that he has evaluated in all of his time as a scout. The praise for Luck is constant and it is real, and with four games remaining in the regular season the Carolina Panthers are on the very brink of securing the services of quite possibly the best quarterback to come out of college since Peyton Manning.
Where were the Colts before Peyton Manning?
Just look at how rookie Sam Bradford has changed the fortunes of the previous afterthought of a team in the St. Louis Rams.
Joe Flacco has injected a new life into the Ravens organisation in recent seasons. And for an example closer to home, look no further than Matt Ryan, who many in the scouting community have favourably compared Andrew Luck to.
A true franchise quarterback like Andrew Luck does not come along often. A talent like his can turn a franchise around. It can stimulate a rebirth of sorts. Remember the pain you felt when the Panthers fell to the Cardinals on that fateful evening in January 2009. Recall the constant state of disbelief you were in as you endured the offensive woes the Panthers have experienced in recent times.
I want you to remember those feelings as a new era of Panthers football is set to begin, because hopefully none of us will need to worry about that again. This franchise will welcome a new coach, a new quarterback and a new mentality in 2011.
A rebirth is coming, and it all begins on January 2nd at the end of the 2010 regular season when the Panthers leave the Georgia Dome.