A Dose of Reality for the Carolina Panthers

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Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

It’s always nice to win. Winning gives you confidence, validates your continuous efforts, shows your worth and in the case of professional sports, can net you some serious cash. Winning is the ultimate goal of any competition, and with it comes a sense of sublime satisfaction that is rivaled by few other events in life.

Winning is awesome, but it can lead to losing quickly and dramatically. Winning can give you confidence, but it can also make you narcissistic and egotistical. Genuine advice turns into uncalled for criticism in your ears, and that failure to listen in turn clouds your perspective. You might only be seventh best team in the league, but who’s to say you shouldn’t be No. 1?

You deserve it, right? If all you do is win, shouldn’t you be in the same category as the other winners?

What’s that they’re saying? You have to beat ‘em to join ‘em? Pretenders can’t beat contenders?

Whatever, you say. Bring it on, you say. No one can stop me now, you say. Poor fool.

Brimming with swagger and defiance, you step up to the contender, showing no fear in front of his imposing stature. The game starts as usual, but then things start to fall apart. Your star player starts to struggle. The role players try to compensate. People get frustrated as more people fail to step up. People start making mental errors, forcing plays.

Eventually all that confidence melts away, and all you’re left with is yourself, still groggy and stumbling from a huge dose of reality.

The Carolina Panthers were the hottest team in the NFL before their crushing loss the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, but now they’ve returned to the land of the lukewarm. Everyone could see the chinks in the Panther’s armor, even the Panthers could, but they always seemed to overcome those deficiencies to pull out the win. Those glaring weaknesses were exposed in the cacophony in the Superdome, giving David Gettleman and Ron Rivera a big to-do list for the offseason.

The biggest issue is clearly the offensive line. Ryan Kalil is one of best in the league and should continue to be for years to come, but everything around him shrouded in doubt. Chris Scott and Amini Silatolu have shown promise at guard, but they’ve been injured most of the season. Travelle Wharton is too old to stick around for long and Nate Chandler and Garry Williams are starting material.

Tackle is even worse, with professional matador Byron Bell manning the right side and the ageless wonder Jordan Gross on the other. Bell got clowned badly by Cameron Jordan in New Orleans, and Jordan Gross‘ waning athleticism was evident against Junior Gallette. Carolina is only going to succeed if they keep Cam Newton composed and get the running game going, and that starts up front.

The oldest issue is by far the wide receiver position, with the team flat-out refusing to draft a high-profile receiver to complement and eventually replace Steve SmithBrandon Lafell and Ted Ginn Jr. have shown promise and complementary players, but they are miles away from being number one receivers. Carolina has the most boring offense in the league with one of the game’s most exciting players, and it’s all because they lack the quick, athletic playmaker that Steve Smith used to be.

The most prominent issue, the one that was most exposed on Sunday, was the secondary. Carolina has promise at safety with a much-improved Mike Mitchell and a surprisingly savvy Robert Lester, not mention Charles Godfrey returning from injury, but their cornerbacks are atrocious.

Captain Munnerlyn has proven himself to be starting material with his sound technique, but him covering giants like Vincent Jackson and Marques Colston is like Nate Robinson guarding Dwight HowardDrayton Florence is too old to stay around long, and the promise that Josh Thomas and Josh Norman showed in the preseason is a fading memory. Melvin White has shown some nice aggressiveness, but he still plays like an undrafted rookie.

Carolina needs to address all of these issues in the offseason if they want more than winners. Winners bask in their momentary glory, but champions know what do when they get knocked on their butt. Will Carolina be able to dust itself off? Maybe not this season, but next season will be very interesting.

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