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The future is at least starting to look bright for the Carolina Panthers
- Updated: December 21, 2016
The Carolina Panthers have come a long way since starting their season with a 1-5 record, and are now finally starting to look like the team that made it to last year’s Super Bowl. They’ve found their groove on their way to back-to-back wins against the San Diego Chargers, and most recently the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football.
It isn’t a large sample, but the Panthers are starting to show that they still have what it takes to be a contender. They may not be the exact team that they were a year ago, but with key pieces still in place in players like Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Greg Olsen, everyone should be excited for this Panthers squad to bounce back next season.
There is still an extremely slight chance for them to make the playoffs, but they’ve already used up their miracle this season with them taking themselves off a road to self-destruction. After losing in the Super Bowl last season to the Denver Broncos, in large part to a poor performance from their leader in Newton, the Panthers looked like they had lost their mojo.
Coming into the season, the offensive line had its issues, and the secondary looked like a shell of itself without the likes of Josh Norman and other veteran pieces. Also, tension between Newton and head coach Ron Rivera started to rise, getting to the point that Rivera benched the All-Pro quarterback for a play against the Seattle Seahawks for not following the team’s dress code by wearing a tie.
The Panthers now look ready to move forward and forget about their past – building momentum and gaining their confidence back by playing some stellar football as of late to improve to a 6-8 record. Coming into Monday night, the Panthers managed to look like their old selves when they took care of the Redskins the same way they cruised through the 2015 campaign. By the end of their game, coach Rivera was so proud of his team that he even told them that no one had to wear a tie on their way home, but Newton responded like the leader the Panthers have always needed.
Ron Rivera told #Panthers they could "dress down, no ties" for trip home. Cam Newton: "I'm wearing my tie just because. I learned my lesson"
— Jason Cole (@JasonColeBR) December 20, 2016
From start to finish, the Panthers looked sharp against the Redskins; keeping their quarterback in Kirk Cousins and their explosive offence to a mere 15 points. Of all people, Newton looked like himself the most; passing for 2 TDs for only the 4th time this season. His energy was contagious, with the Panthers playing with spirit on both sides, something that Newton said head coach Rivera had challenged them to do before their game.
“We just wanted to come out and compete,” said Newton. “Coach challenged us all as men, as players, as professionals to come out and do our job. We prepare and we come to work every day to win football games. That’s what we tried to do today, and we did it.”
The Panthers showed up on Monday night in front of the national spotlight, proving that they were still a force to be reckoned with even after all their early season struggles. After trading field goals to start the game, the Panthers quickly orchestrated an 8-play, 84-yard drive, capped off by a 30-yard TD pass to Ted Ginn to give Carolina a 10-3 lead with 1:50 remaining in the 1st. Next, the Panthers defence would remind everyone what had made them so special last season, when they forced Cousins to throw an interception to Kurt Coleman to put the ball back in the hands of Newton in the dying seconds of the opening frame.
The Panthers still knew they were going against a desperate Redskins team, looking to keep themselves in the playoff picture. They didn’t back down, even when Cousins led his team to a TD to cut Carolina’s lead to 13-9. Instead of backing down and allowing the Redskins to take hold of momentum on their own home field, the Panthers came out even more aggressive in the 2nd half. To start things off, the Panthers’ defence would sack the Redskins QB – forcing a fumble and getting hold of the football at the 1-yard line.
It wouldn’t take long for the 2015 MVP to make Cousins pay for his 2nd mistake of the game, throwing a quick 1-yard TD pass to Mike Tolbert to raise their lead to 20-9 with just under 14 minutes left in the quarter. It would turn out to be the final blow for the Redskins, with the Panthers defence holding them to only 166 yards the rest of the way. Newton and the Panthers put a pair of field goals, before leaving FedExField having made a statement that they were back and ready to be one of the league’s best teams.
The future looks bright for the Panthers, even though they still have a long way to go. If they don’t make the playoffs, which looks like it’ll be the case, they’ll at least have the offseason to prepare themselves and get hungry for a highly anticipated 2017 campaign.
There is too much talent on this team for them to bothered with distractions like they had at the beginning of the season. Changes to their roster and even to their coaching staff are expected after their regression from last year’s Super Bowl team, but it shouldn’t be long until we see the Panthers looking like a team ready to take the NFL by storm, once again.
All stats for this article are from NFL.com
You can follow Peter Ash on Twitter @peterash_