By Ted Fleming
Just when fans thought it was safe to jump back on the Panthers bandwagon after the most lopsided win in franchise history, they take a trip to the desert and kick everyone off. For all intents and purposes the 38-point thrashing of the Giants two weeks ago looks more like a mirage than a trend and now it is back to square one after a rather ugly 22-6 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
The Panthers re-wrote the lyrics of the Irving Berlin ditty from Annie Get Your Gun with their own version, “Anything you can do I can do much worse.” For every Arizona misdeed Carolina managed to top them with dropped passes and costly penalties at the most inopportune times.
The offensive line did little in the way of giving Cam Newton time to run an offense while the defense, which looked so dominant a week before the bye, made some quality plays only to crumble when they needed to step up. Here are the gory details of how the Panthers fell to 1-3 and headed to yet another losing season.
Coaching Grade: C-
Head coach Ron Rivera goes under the bus simply because the Panthers lost to a team they should have beat, but unfortunately he doesn’t wear a uniform. Those who did dress, for the most part, let him down despite some gaudy stats in certain areas. Rivera’s job seems secure until the end of the year and a win today would have given him one more positive on his résumé toward a year four in Charlotte. Nevertheless, the rumblings to fire him will start anew after this game especially after a report on NFL.com by Marc Sessler intimates a search for his replacement is already underway.
Quarterback Grade: D
The grade here might not be a fair one because Cam Newton was running for his life all afternoon and was sacked a stunning seven times, once for a safety. For a mobile quarterback that is far too many times to be effective and in one sequence he was well within field goal range only to be dropped on consecutive plays forcing the Panthers to punt. Because of the constant pressure, Newton was picked off three times, two on underthrown balls including an interception at the Arizona one yard line.
To be fair Newton threw for 303 yards, but had a sure touchdown pass dropped in the end zone and a fourth-and-one dropped deep in the Cardinals’ territory.
Offense Grade: C+
Ted Ginn (4 receptions for 78 yards) and Greg Olsen (5 for 79) would have been the stars of the offense had the final been different. Sadly, there will be two plays that will define the overall frustration of the offense with Steve Smith mishandling a sure touchdown pass from Newton that would have likely changed the trajectory of the game. He would drop the first two passes that came his way and was targeted 10 times with just four catches. Adding to his misery was being flagged for offensive pass interference when the Panthers were trying to stage a comeback.
The other was Brandon LaFell dropping a perfect pass on a fourth down that looked like he had a clear path to the end zone. That was 14 points that never went up on the board.
Defense Grade: D
The Panthers broke out their Jekyll and Hyde defense on Sunday and the bottom line is, they were nowhere close to the team that showed up against the Giants two weeks ago. This grade could have been upgraded to a “B” with a win because there were a lot of positives, but not enough in a loss to consider anything other than the grade given here.
For the second straight game since being plucked off the practice squad, Robert Lester had an interception. That was one of three errant Carson Palmer passes that would end up in the Panthers hands with Mike Mitchell and Luke Kuechly grabbing the other two. Charles Johnson had a sack while Mario Addison and Kawann Short split another.
Those were the individual stats. Collectively things didn’t seem to click and it showed on the first Arizona touchdown. Trailing by only a field goal at the half, 6-3, Carolina began to self-destruct after failing to do anything the first time they touched the ball in the third quarter.
Mike Mitchell got flagged for a personal foul that tacked on 15 yards following an eight-yard completion. On the next play Drayton Florence was called for holding and those 20 yards played a big part in the Cards taking a lead they would not give up. Things were so bad that on the point after, Carolina was called for an illegal formation.
Guard Amini Silatolu left the game in the third quarter with a right knee injury and did not return.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.