The Carolina Panthers hung on for a 23-20 win over the Saints on Thursday to improve to 4-6 on the season. Nevertheless, their playoff hopes remain dim – and if you watched their performance against New Orleans, you know why.
Carolina led 23-3 entering the fourth quarter but barely hung on for a 23-20 win. Indeed, the Panthers played the final quarter with the same type of lethargy that led to their 1-5 start.
“I think there is certainly a little bit of complacency with this team, especially coming off the season they had last year,” Sports Illustrated’s Jonathan Jones said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Ron Rivera tried to tell these guys back in training camp – and even before training camp in OTAs and minicamp – look, guys, nothing is going to be handed to us. These guys knew that, of course, that the previous season didn’t matter and that this was a new year. But we have seen time and again with teams that were very successful, that were on the doorstep of a Super Bowl victory and didn’t get it, then next season they’ve struggled. It happened with the Packers. We can name almost every team that was above 13-3 but lost the Super Bowl. That’s what happening with the Panthers. So is this anything revolutionary – a team that went to the Super Bowl and had such a great season is now struggling? No, but it is kind of shocking that with the Panthers and Cam dabbing all over the place last year and now where they sit, where it’s do-or-die every week.”
While the Panthers are still mathematically alive for the playoffs – they trail Atlanta (6-4) by two games in the NFC South – Jones doesn’t see it happening.
“Look at their schedule,” he said. “They have to play at Oakland, and then they have to stay out there for a week and play at Seattle. The New England Patriots, the Dallas Cowboys – whoever you want to say is the best team in the NFL – you’d say, ‘Yeah, you’d be lucky to go 1-1 on that kind of swing.’ You’re not saying that about the Panthers right now. You think that they’re probably going to go 0-2, but even if they go 1-1, that’s still not enough.”
Cam Newton, meanwhile, has been far from his MVP self. Last year, he accounted for 45 touchdowns (35 pass, 10 rush). This year, he has just 15 (11 pass, four rush). He still has six games to go, of course, but he is on pace to finish well short of his MVP production.
“I think Cam’s still the same guy and the guys in the locker room still treat Cam the same way, and I think that he still treats those guys the same way,” Jones said. “The fact is, though, again, they’re frontrunners. I really don’t mean that in a bad way, but when they get out to a lead, they cruise. But if they don’t get out to that lead, they don’t play all that well. If Cam can get rolling and he can dab early in the game, then everyone’s going to love it. But he is on record as saying he is the world’s worst loser. I’m not throwing things at Cam right now. He is a really bad loser. And he’s a bad loser when the final score indicates a loss, and he’s a bad loser when they haven’t even lost a game yet.”