Isaiah Saint Hilaire
When we look back at the Carolina Panthers’ 2017-18 NFL season, we find that there were many things they could have done differently to be successful and possibly take the place of the Philadelphia Eagles’ in the Super Bowl. What some fans do not realize is the true reasoning behind the Panthers’ mediocre, but playoff-caliber season.
It begins and ends with the play of “Superman” AKA Cam Newton. During the 2017 season, many fans left games in dismay, shaking their heads even when the Panthers narrowly attained victories. Newton failed to reach 3,000 yards in passing this season, but he did reach a new career high in rushing yards at 754 yards. Newton has always been a dual-threat QB, winning games with his arm and feet. That is what the league has been veering toward with their quarterbacks of the future. Cam has fit that description since his rookie campaign in 2011 when he broke the rookie record for back-to-back 400+ yard passing games against the Arizona Cardinals and the Green Bay Packers. That year was filled with rookie mistakes, but many bright moments in his game. During the 2015 season Cam Newton had an MVP season and went onto the Super Bowl, to only score one touchdown and get sacked more than five times in a losing effort. It was a season in which the Panthers dominated. The 2017 season was filled with Cam looking for receivers and creating his own ground game. With his career high in rushing, the Panthers found a little success in establishing Devin Funchess as their top wide receiver after trading away former first round pick Kelvin Benjamin.
While the offensive line created holes for the running game, they struggled to keep Newton on his feet, which is what ultimately lead to their early dismissal in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. The Week 17 matchup in Atlanta against the Falcons was no better with Newton’s overthrowing targets, not being on the same page with tight end Greg Olsen (his favorite target) and throwing three interceptions during that game. The defense could not stop Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, and the Panthers found themselves on the road in New Orleans. The offense came out strong during the New Orleans matchup on wild card weekend, and it had seemed as though the Panthers had adjusted to any, of the mistakes they had made the previous two games against the Saints. The defense was daring Drew Brees to throw after giving up almost 200 yards of rushing during their second meeting in the regular season. Brees threw and racked up almost 400 yards passing with 3 touchdown passes. It is as if the man nearing 40 never not aged over 25. Luke Kuechly and the Panthers defense simply could not stop the long passes and the precision Brees had during the game.
Many fans thought the Panthers were going to the Super Bowl after defeating the Patriots in New England early in the season. Newton found Funchess for three touchdown throws, and the defense threw pressure to Brady all afternoon. It was a defining moment for a Panthers team who had lost to the Saints the previous week. The Panthers ended up becoming conservative and allowed the “G.O.A.T” (also known as Tom Brady) to do what he does best. However, when it mattered, Newton drove his team down for the win. The rest of the season was successful, albeit the losses to the Eagles and Saints, in their second matchup. Newton found his game and enjoyed carving through defenses with both his legs and his arm. Fans will continue to ask this question, “when will they win their first championship?” It is a matter of patience and understanding that it takes more than one star in the making and wide receivers to alleviate the pressure from Newton. The hiring of Norv Turner seems to be energizing the Panthers as an organization, Turner has had success with Phillip Rivers during his tenure with the now Los Angeles Chargers. It will be interesting to see what he can do with a dual-threat quarterback. Those fans will have to maintain patience and find out how successful the 2018 Carolina Panthers will be.