Panthers reminded flaws can be exposed
Posted December 10, 2013
1. The Carolina Panthers became NFL darlings during their winning streak, but their flaws never went away. The right side of the offensive line was patchwork. The play-calling was efficient, but Carolina was by no means slinging it around as if they were running the Air Raid. The weakness of the secondary was masked by one of the league's best pass rushes.
New Orleans exposed those flaws on Sunday night.
The Panthers couldn't go into the Superdome thinking they'd win by kicking field goals. Carolina couldn't afford to let quarterback Drew Brees, on his home turf, have time to methodically takedown their defensive backs.
Head coach Ron Rivera called the 31-13 defeat humbling during Monday's media availability, adding "maybe we got a little full of ourselves and thought we were capable of just showing up."
Let's chalk that up to coach-speak. While it's easy to see why Rivera would use the loss to fight complacency in the locker room, Sunday night's drubbing didn't happen because the Panthers decided to waltz into New Orleans. They ran into a combination plenty of teams have a hard time bringing down -- Brees, Payton and the home field advantage provided by the Superdome.
2. There are certain teams that are unstoppable beasts on their home turf. The Panthers got a taste of that in New Orleans, but the Saints experienced a similar phenomenon in Seattle the week before. Yet the Seahawks looked mortal the following week visiting San Francisco.
That's why playoff positioning is key in the NFC and why the Seahawks will enter the post season as overwhelming favorites to reach the Super Bowl. How could they not when Russell Wilson hasn't lost a game in Seattle?
As it currently stands, the Panthers are facing a difficult task of playing on the road in the post season. Carolina proved it could top another playoff contender with a win over San Francisco, but can they step up and knock off New Orleans or Seattle? As we've already seen in previous matchups, the margin for error against those elite teams at home is razor thin.
3. Show of hands from those who had the Carolina Panthers at 9-4 in the middle of December.
Anyone? Thought so.
Look, the sky isn't falling in Charlotte. The Panthers have done a great job managing their weaknesses and focusing on their strengths. Throughout their winning streak, the defense continued to put pressure on quarterbacks and keep games tight. Ron Rivera continued to take what he dubbed "calculated risks" in short yardage situations thanks to bulldozers like Mike Tolbert and Cam Newton didn't insist upon himself. And it's acceptable to admit the Panthers got a couple breaks along the way.
You do you, Panthers. It's worked out pretty well this season.