The Carolina Panthers fell to 1-2 on the season, suffering their first home loss since November 2014 by a score of 22-10 at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings. There was plenty of sulking and walking off. So here we go.
The First Quarter: The offense looked unstoppable, and the defense wasn’t giving an inch. It was a perfect start for the Panthers. It was all downhill after that.
James Bradberry: He’s done a gret job in these last two games after a mediocre start against Denver. He still hasn’t faced an elite quarterback/wide receiver combo, but he certainly looks at home in Carolina.
Special Teams: Graham Gano missed a 53-yard field goal off the uprights. Why the Panthers ever try to kick a 50+ yard field goal with Gano is beyond me. He never makes it. Andy Lee had a couple of good punts; he certainly did enough of it in this game, but one of them was a returned for a touchdown. This would have been in The Walk Off category if not for far worse performances.
The Defense: They weren’t bad, they just got no help from the offense. The Vikings only TD drive was a direct result of Mike Zimmer making halftime adjustments, something the Panthers and their coaches have no clue how to do. They held the Vikings to 34 yards of offense in the first half, but only led 10-8 due to a safety and punt return TD.
The Walk Off
Cam Newton: Flat out. He sucked. The first couple of drives were good, but after his touchdown run, he was terrible. He held the ball for 6-7 seconds every play, taking eight sacks in total. He didn’t once throw the ball to Kelvin Benjamin until garbage time. The offensive line got beat, but part of the reason they got beat was due to Newton failing to get the ball out quickly. The Vikings defense, which has to be the best defense in the league, deserves a lot of credit. I’m sure they covered Benjamin well, but not to have a single target isn’t good coverage, it’s poor quarterback play. Did I mention the three interceptions?
Ron Rivera and Mike Shula: I think Rivera is a good coach and Shula is a good offensive coordinator. But they have their flaws and those flaws continue to be exposed by better coaches and defenses. These two had all offseason to figure out that they have to get the ball out of Newton’s hands quickly against pressure defenses. They didn’t do it in the opener against the Broncos, and they didn’t do it against the Vikings. The offense looks really good against weak defensive teams who can’t pressure Cam, but when you’re facing the best defenses in the league, you have to do different things. The Panthers rarely do different things. It’s very evident by their lack of halftime adjustments and it’s a big reason why they blow so many big leads.
Defensive Line: So far, the defensive line has three sacks in three games. One each by back-ups Mario Addison and Lavar Edwards and one by starter Star Lotulelei. Kony Ealy, Kwann Short, and Charles Johnson have been invisible through the first three games. Short wanted to get paid in the offseason, and he should’ve taken the money because he’s losing out on some cash so far. The Vikings don’t have a great offensive line, but they’re smart enough to know that if you get the ball quickly out of the hands of the quarterback, he can’t get sacked. Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are as good as it gets at the linebacker position, and the secondary has played very well despite the loss of Josh Norman. It’s on the front four to create some pressure, and right now there’s nothing there.
I’m at about 4/10. It’s only week three, but a 1-2 start is less than ideal, even if we’ve played two of the best defenses in the league. Next week is when the season starts to get interesting as it’s the first division game at Atlanta. I don’t want to say it’s a “must-win game” but it’s definitely a “we really need to win unless we plan on not losing another game all season win game”