By Ted Fleming
Just when it looked like the Panthers would break away from their modus operandi of a year ago and win a squeaker, they would fumble away a chance to knock off one of the NFL’s elite teams. The 12-7 loss to the Seahawks at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte was crushing in more ways than one.
Sophomore defensive end Frank Alexander was ejected for losing his mind and throwing a punch at Seattle tackle Breno Giacomini in front of referee Jeff Triplette and could be looking for a new team on Monday.
“We talked about them being chipper, we talked about things that they do to try and get you out of your game and he fell for it,” said head coach Ron Rivera. “To me it was the case of the second man getting caught. Again, we have to get those things corrected because you can’t let that happen.”
That would put Carolina down two players because offensive lineman Garry Williams had to be carted off the field with what could be a significant injury to his left leg.
If Rivera fails to make it through the season, it will be games like this that will get him fired. It is not that Rivera is a bad coach, quite the contrary, but how many times do you get your heart broken before management looks to make a change just for the sake of change? A few wins in the coming weeks will change that.
Ron Rivera has a pretty good team and probably a better coaching staff, but it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if the Panthers cannot win the close ones. If fans got a sense of déjà vu on Sunday maybe it’s because they have seen it before – like a year ago when seven of the Panthers nine losses came by a touchdown or less.
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott had Carolina ready for the Seahawks, a team some see headed to New Jersey for the Super Bowl. The Panthers will win a lot of games with their defense; however, they still need to find a way to put up more points if they hope to make the playoffs.
Cam Newton did not have eye-popping numbers (16-23, 125 yards and a TD), but the one you want to look at was interceptions. The goose egg in that department was just part of the terrific execution of OC Shula’s game plan and taking what the Seahawks defense would give him. Three of the five times he would run with the ball were on designed plays and more to the point, he did not lead the team in rushing. Newton’s first trip into the red zone ended in a touchdown as he hit Steve Smith on a crossing pattern at the goal line off play action. Fans may have seen a bit of why Newton was named one of the team’s six captains. This is the kind of loss that will make him a better quarterback.
It was good, but not good enough. With the defense holding up their end, it was mistakes – actually one big one that effectively cost the Panthers a game.
DeAngelo Williams produced very little in the preseason – and that is being very generous – and maybe Mike Shula was doing a little sandbagging leading up to the regular season. If that was the case, Williams had a virtual explosion on Sunday going for 86 yards. His 5.1 average was more than double his exhibition total. He was also targeted three times and caught all of them for positive yardage.
Williams was on his way to giving the Panthers a late game lead on a second-and-two from the 24 when he took the handoff from Newton with under six minutes to play. He swung to the outside breaking a tackle and if he didn’t get into the end zone he would have been very close. The man he beat, Earl Thomas, did not give up on the play and managed to come from behind and strip Williams. Tony McDaniel recovered and the Seahawks simply ran out the clock for the win.
One might think that allowing Seattle QB Russell Wilson to get his first NFL 300-yard passing game would be a negative, but that would not be a fair assessment of their work. Wilson hit a couple of prayers on third down, otherwise he would still be in search of that magic number. Giving up a dozen points to an offense that ranked ninth best in 2012 is no easy task yet the Panthers shut down the run (70 yards overall – Marshawn Lynch had just 43 and a 2.5 average) and were in Wilson’s face all day.
Luke Kuechly is the usual leader in tackles but they was spread around quite nicely as he had as many as Charles Godfrey and Thomas Davis with nine each. Godfrey also had a sack, as did Charles Johnson who forced a fumble. It was a superb 2013 debut for the defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D-
The only reason there isn’t a failed grade here is because of one superb play early in the game when they were able to down a Brad Nortman punt at the five. Armond Smith was flagged twice for going out of bounds on returns, once for 15 yards for not getting back in a timely manner, the other for intentionally going out and returning. The second penalty drew the ire of veteran wideout Steve Smith who lambasted the second year pro in full view of teammates, fans and the television audience. There was also a major gaffe when Josh Thomas did not get out of the way of a punt. The ball touched his foot and Seattle recovered.
NOTES: Steve Smith has now caught a pass in 92 straight games.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.