Okay, so the Panthers still have to face a few other good teams in the second half of this season. And yes, the Buccaneers (6-3), who made the Panthers look more like the Detroit Lions than a (then) 4-1 team, and the Giants (7-1), whose quarterback has apparently traded bodies with his brother, are just two of those teams. Even so, I stand by the above title.
The Panthers are currently 6-2, but even I—a diehard Panthers fan—will admit that they have gotten lucky more than once. So far this season, their offense is the ninth-most penalized offense in the NFL, with a total of 57 penalties (that's a little more than seven penalties per game).
Until now, they've gotten lucky; they beat Chicago and San Diego, even though there was a constant stream of yellow flags flying through the air. That luck wore off when they played the Vikings, and the Panthers lost that game, 20-10.
After the Vikings game, the Panthers seemed to improve on the penalty count. They were still getting some penalties that they could do without, but even the dreaded Bill Belichick can't completely stop a team from making mistakes now and again (the Patriots have 24 penalties this season).
After stopping Matt Ryan and the Falcons dead in their tracks with a 24-9 victory and blowing Kansas City away 34-0 at home, the Panthers finally seemed like they had things under control. Then came the Buccaneers game.
To sum up the Buccaneers game in four words: The Panthers fell apart. It was almost as though they didn't show up. Steve Smith—THE Steve Smith—dropped two or three passes (two of which had very good chances to become touchdown passes), the special-teams unit messed up a number of times (the most costly of which was a blocked punt...see above picture), and Delhomme was 20-39 with zero touchdowns and three interceptions (which combined to get him a whopping 38.6 QB rating).
Normally, a team that played like the Panthers did against the Bucs wouldn't be taken seriously. But the Panthers are 6-2. And the way they shut down the (then) No. 2 pass offense in the NFL when they played the Saints shows that this team is not one to be taken lightly.
So, were the two losses the Panthers suffered flukes? No. The Panthers lost those games themselves. They just need to learn to be consistent from one week to the next. They can't play like they did against the Bucs in a playoff game and expect to get away with it.
If the Panthers are able to pull together and play like they have been the last two weeks, this team is headed to the playoffs. Otherwise, Panthers fans may be in for another disappointing end to the season.