I don't know how much of a bold statement this would be, but the Carolina Panthers may be one of the best 3-6 teams that you'll ever see. They're not a 3-6 team that is disappointing and should've been well in the mix for a playoff spot (aka the Falcons) - they are constantly overachieving even if the end results are not exactly what the fans want.
Once again, the Panthers had the ball in their hands at the end of the game with a chance to win. Sure, you can say Teddy Bridgewater isn't clutch or that Matt Rhule isn't a good coach, but you'd be flat out wrong with those assumptions. Bridgewater played with tremendous effort on Sunday and left everything he had out on the field, it just simply wasn't enough to overcome a high-powered offense that the Chiefs have. As for Rhule, he knew that coming into this game he would have to be aggressive and creative for his team to have a fighting chance. He went for it on 4th down early and it paid off resulting in a touchdown pass to Christian McCaffrey. Later in the first half, they drew up a fake punt pass for punter Joseph Charlton that caught Kansas City completely off guard. Rhule had the perfect gameplan coming into this game and offensive coordinator Joe Brady called a great game.
For those that are frustrated about the loss, let's be real for a second. You know where this team is. This is a team that is clearly in a rebuild, while the Chiefs are hopeful to be able to get back to the Super Bowl. Wanting to win the game is one thing, but to expect a win is entirely different. The fact of the matter is, the Panthers had no business being in this game, yet they had a chance to win at the very end. That says something about where these guys are in their development, the level of buy-in with the coaching staff, and how well the coaches are doing their job.
This may not be a year where the Panthers are going to be playing deep into the winter months, but they're playing like a team that is well ahead of schedule and could be on pace to be a playoff team as early as next year.
Next year? Yes.
The one indicator I often use is to see when teams lose is how they are losing. Are they getting throttled 90% of the time or are they keeping games extremely close and just falling short? For the Panthers, it's the latter. Typically when you lose a bunch of close games, it's a sign that you are just lacking depth and experience. Once Carolina can get to this offseason and spend some money in free agency, they will be able to fix that depth issue since they were unable to last offseason due to being tight on money.
So although the results may not be what fans want, just take a deep breathe, things are trending in the right direction for the Carolina Panthers.
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