Carolina Panthers, Sorry For Your Loss!

Carolina Panthers

There is a short list of NFL coaches who are already secretly updating their résumés, hoping to find their next life as a panelist on morning pregame shows. One of these coaches marched 60 minutes closer to yukking it up on the morning show desk this week, as Matt Rhule and the Carolina Panthers fell to the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals won 26-16, but it seemed like neither team really wanted to win the game.

I am sorry for your loss, Carolina Panthers, but your season is over!

We are just four games into this season, but it is already abundantly clear why the Panthers tried to land Deshaun Watson and the most handsome consolation prize, Jimmy Garoppolo. Matt Rhule is the new Chip Kelly, and I don’t just mean that he’s revolutionizing the NFL with his patented “three-and-out” offense. Whenever a pregame show does a Panthers game, instead of going with “don’t say anything at all,” they try to find something nice to say by bringing up Matt Rhule’s super-relevant Big-12 work. Yea, the minor league college football league; I mean, I know we are all impressed by what happened against Texas Tech a half-decade ago. Speaking of underwhelming coaches and Texas Tech… Matt Rhule had to go up against super genius Kliff Kingsbury.

The Panthers had a simple and straightforward game plan against Arizona and the former Texas Tech coach: get out of the gates quickly, and score (because they won’t). So far, the Cardinals are averaging four points in the first half of games. But, getting a first-half head start was easier said than done as the Panthers hit halftime with a small lead in a 10-3 defensive stalemate.

Nobody has been able to explain why the Rhule Regime is 1-26 when the Panthers score under seventeen points. It’s even sadder that in the 35 games as a head coach, the offensive-minded coach’s team has topped seventeen points just eight times in three years. Yikes. If you ever wonder why North Carolina is a NASCAR state, well now you know.

After starting the game with an ice-cold 4.5 yards per pass attempt in the first half, Kyler Murray thawed out a bit as he struck tight end, Zach Ertz, in the end zone for a two-yard game-tying touchdown. This was exactly the spark the Cardinals needed, as that was the first of four consecutive scores before Baker Mayfield and Christian McCaffrey connected for a cursory 13 yard touchdown with about 5 minutes left in the game.

Murray slowly pulled apart the Panthers’ defense, breaking them in half for two passing touchdowns, and he ran one in, as well. Carolina’s defense couldn’t even pretend like they were threatening to stop Kliff Kingsbury’s game plan. The Cardinals dominated the clock when they had the ball, and slowly bled this one out, ominously foreshadowing the likely long, overwrought, and arduous process to replace Matt Rhule.

This loss to Arizona raises a lot of questions that Matt Rhule seems completely unable to answer. Will he bench Baker Mayfield for Sam Darnold? Will they finally get out of the bottom three in passing yards per game? Why don’t you just get Christian McCaffrey the ball, seeing as you have one of the best running backs in the league and the ground game ranks in the bottom third in the NFL? Rhule hasn’t shown that he has the ability to answer any of these questions.

The Panthers were never good last year, as two of their three wins in their “hot start” came against two of the five teams that picked higher than them in the 2022 NFL Draft. They lost key defensive talent in the offseason, like Stephon Gilmore, Hassan Reddick, and others, and the Panthers didn’t replace them. They also failed to bring in anyone to tell Matt Rhule any differently, bringing in offensive guru Ben McAdoo to run the offense. All of this has found the fanbase clamoring for Sam Darnold (really, that’s not a joke), who found his way back into their good graces, and on the verge of a pity resurrection campaign, because they miss the heady days of Sam Darnold.

Everyone in Carolina was high on Baker Mayfield. They thought that he could turn his career around in Carolina, what with the fresh start and all. It turns out they were all dead wrong. I am guilty of this, too, though. I thought moving Baker to a new place could be the right move, but I’m not even sure he knows that he moved. He mostly seems confused and lost on Carolina. He added that he doesn’t care about fans booing him, but no word on if he’s just used to it from floundering in years in Cleveland as the #1 overall pick.

I feel for you Carolina. I do. You look around at your divisional rivals and see a collection of old quarterbacks well past their prime and think that’s how you build a contender. Maybe next year, you can pitch yourself as a renewed expansion team, since you’ll probably have a new head coach, general manager, and starting quarterback. You can start looking now because after all… your season is over!

[Header Image Source: under CC BY SA 2.0]

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