What’s the story?
Chances are good that you might remember the story from this past year (a worse-than-it-sounds 7-9 season) less clearly than you remember the story from season prior (a better-than-it-sounds 6-10 season). The reason? Cam Newton was on fire in 2011. He was the league’s RGIII/Russell Wilson/Colin Kaepernick. He even made the Pro Bowl! This past season was a definitive sophomore slump. The Panthers might have won an extra game in 2011, but it was a far cry from what they had anticipated at the start of the season.
Leader and commander:
Ron Rivera, who is in a make-it-or-break-it third year as the Panthers head coach.
New kid on the block:
The Panthers tried to shore up their defense with two defensive tackles high in the draft, Star Lotuleli and Kawann Short. Also, long-time Panther WR Steve Smith got some free agent friends this season. Former Giant Domenik Hixon and former Niner Ted Ginn Jr. were both signed in the offseason in an effort to alleviate Carolina’s receiving corp woes.
Last year was…
…good enough for 2nd in the NFC South, bad enough to lose 8 of the first 10 games and get the GM fired. And it wasn’t just that they lost a lot early on, it was the way that they lost that made it such a downer of a season.
It’s easier to repair leaks in a ship than it is to get the captain to steer differently. The Panthers have the defensive rookie of the year in Luke Kuechly, drafted well on defense, acquired tools that they need to have a great offense this season, but they’ll also need Cam Newton to take charge as a mature leader to prove that they’re better than 21st overall.