The Panthers fell in heartbreaking fashion on Sunday 34-28 in overtime to the Minnesota Vikings. Carolina trailed 28-17 past the midway point in the fourth quarter but a field goal and a 96-yard drive plus the two-point conversion allowed the Panthers to send the game to overtime.
Here are my initial thoughts on today's game:
The defense can only do so much
Carolina has one of the best defensive units in the entire NFL but week after week the offense fails to sustain drives and puts the defense in a bad spot in terms of field position. The perfect example would be on the very first play of the game when Sam Darnold tried to force a ball to Robby Anderson which was intercepted and returned to the 22-yard line. The defense came up with a big stop and held Minnesota to a field goal. For three straight weeks, the defense has had an opportunity to get one more stops and put the ball in the hands of the offense to potentially tie or win the game but have failed to do so. I can't really place much blame on that side of the ball because if it weren't for them, they wouldn't have been in any of these three losses. At the end of the game, the defense doesn't seem to have the same fire and energy in them that they have in the earlier portion of the game. They're on the field way too much and sometimes, way too long. The offense has to start making plays to keep the defense fresh late in the fourth quarter.
Darnold is a question mark
After three weeks everyone thought Darnold had broken through his troubled past and found the perfect home in Carolina as he led the Panthers to a 3-0 record out of the gate, Now, those same people are ready to write him off after losing three straight games. I'm not ready to do so just yet. Has he played smart football? Meh, not really but we can't act like he's the only issue offensively. Balls need to be caught when they are there and the protection has to improve. Darnold is constantly under duress which is forcing him to rush through progressions. I still believe Darnold has a chance to be successful here in Carolina but he needs to regain that confidence he had the first three weeks of the season and flush the past three games. I don't see them giving up all hope and moving on from him in the offseason either. This is a two-year tryout window for Darnold. If the front office doesn't believe he is the guy after next season, then they will move on.
Play-calling is stale
I'll have to go back and watch the All 22 once it's released but I didn't see many adjustments from offensive coordinator Joe Brady until the final five minutes of the game when they were forced to go uptempo and be aggressive when attacking the secondary. There's too much traffic in the back end and DJ Moore was running routes into double coverage very often from what I could see in the press box. Brady has to be willing to adjust and attack underneath but do so by using rubs and picks to help free up some of those areas in the short passing game. I get it's a lot harder to call a game when you don't have Christian McCaffrey suited up but we are 22 games in and I don't know what Joe Brady's philosophy is. That's a problem.
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