Diagnosing the Problem: The Carolina Panthers' Losing Trend

Josh KleinCorrespondent ISeptember 29, 2009

Here's an interesting statistic for you:

Every year the Carolina Panthers have made the playoffs they have failed to make the playoffs the next year:

1996: It is the second year of the Carolina Panther franchise and Richardson's Panthers made their first trip to the playoffs on a 12-4 record.  They lost in the NFC championship game to eventual Super Bowl champions, the Green Bay Packers 30-13.

1997:  High hopes were dashed for the Franchise when they went a disappointing 7-9 losing their final two games by a combined score of 28-62.

2003:  It had been a six year playoff drought for the Carolina Panthers.  Which had seen numerous personal changes, a coaching change and a fifteen game losing streak.  But life was back for the proud franchise as first year complete season starter Jake Delhomme guided the potent Carolina offense to the Super Bowl. 

On the legs of Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster and supplemented by the breakout stars of Julius Peppers and Steve Smith the Panthers enjoyed success in an 11-5 season and a defensively driven push to the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots on a kick out of bounds and one of a myriad last second field goals by veteran Adam Vinatieri: 32-29.

It was heart breaking for Panther franchise, but gave positive indications of a soon to be NFC power house on the the horizon.

2004: With a positive attitude and a promising future the Panthers were hands down the favorites to win the NFC South.  But a season ending injury to lightening fast and explosive star Steve Smith, as well as losing Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster the Panthers finished in heart breaking fashion: 7-9.

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2005:  The Panthers were back, and back with a vengeance.  An upsetting loss to the Saints at the end of the 2004 season was still fresh on their minds.  But they failed to rectified it with a 23-20 loss.  They finished the season strong though clinching the last Playoff spot in the NFC: 11-5.

This time the Panthers made it into the playoffs on a wild-card.  And they trounced on both the Giants and the Bears before being trounced on by the Seahawks, who in the end got cheated (oops, should I say that?) out of the Super Bowl.

2006:  On the heals of another successful season the media decided to take another chance and favor the Panthers.  But, once again the Panthers fail to reciprocate. 

Again injuries hamper the team, along with poor coaching decisions and limited personnel.  The Panthers fail to live up to expectations again and finish the season with a mediocre 8-8 record.

2008:  Another year out of the playoff race the Panthers went back to the basics in. Newly drafted Jonathan Stewart added a piece to the puzzle that had been missing since Stephen Davis left the team.  They rode the legs of DeAngelo Williams, Steve Smith, and Jonathan Stewart to a perfect record at home and a 12-4 record overall.

But, a less than poor performance by Jake Delhomme in their home playoff game against the eventual Super Bowl runners-up the Arizona Cardinals dropped them once again out of the playoff race and sent them home to lick their wounds and try again next.

So why am I writing this?  Well it could be because I just witnessed one of the worst third quarter melt downs I can remember in recent history on Monday Night Football.  Or it could be because again, the Panthers are poised to disappoint a season after making the Playoffs.

With an 0-3 start the statistical probability of the Carolina Panthers making the playoffs this season has dropped to a measly 1.4 percent.

Why has this trend plagued the John Fox era?  I think I have figured it out.

The problem for the Carolina Panthers isn't talent.  Players like Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Jeff Otah, Jordan Gross, Muhsin Muhammad, Julius Peppers, Chris Gamble and Jon Beason are all great players and even All-Pros at their respective positions.

But the problem isn't talent, like I mentioned before.  The real problem is the fact that John Fox hasn't built a team for depth, he and the front office have built a team for surface talent.

Consider this:  Each year the Carolina Panthers have made it to the Playoffs they have done it on a healthy roster.  Each year the Panthers fail to do so they are hampered by injuries. 

Now I am no fool, I understand that most NFL teams go through losses and these losses keep them from winning games and making the playoffs, especially at the quarterback position. 

But, most of these teams also build for the future drafting quartertbacks and only trading first round picks for All-Pro caliber-type talent.  Not so with the Panthers.  The last two years they have traded their first round draft picks for, Jeff Otah and Everette Brown.

These picks speak to the achilles heal of the John Fox regime.  The coaching staff and the front office are "now" oriented, not "future" oriented.  Resigning Jake Delhomme was a move for cap space which, instead of using it to build was kept to spend almost entirely on Julius Peppers' franchise tag.

It's not necessarily the coaching, or lack of resolve to win games that hurts the Panthers this season or even any of the previous playoff-absent seasons.  Ultimately it is the lack of future thinking by the coaching staff and the front office. 

Someday they will need more wide receivers than Steve Smith, someday another quarterback, and someday another shut-down defensive tackle.

With an 0-3 start it looks like the pattern will most likely continue.  It was bad news early when Panther fans learned that Maake Kemoeatu was out for the season on IR (Injured Reserve). 

Obviously i'm not willing to throw the towel in yet, but my arm is cocked and ready.  With a bye week the Panthers will have time to heal, but will it be enough?  It's time to fight the odds and break the trend.  How does 13-0 sound?  We can dream...we can dream.  And maybe, just maybe it might come true.