Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bank of America Stadium is quiet

Early in the season, I wondered if the Panthers 2009 campaign would ever end. This past Sunday, I wished it would continue.

That was the journey for the Carolina Panthers this season. Early struggles, key injuries, then the return of a tough, hard-hitting defense, an offense that seemed to be able to move the ball at will, and a team full of players that believed.

The 8-8 record is what they earned, and likely deserved given the horrendous start. It was a record that could have been better had they been able to win games against non-playoff teams like Buffalo and Miami, but as Head Coach John Fox would say, "it is what it is."

Observations now that it's done:
  • Stop making so much of the Panthers inability to put together back-to-back winning seasons. True, this franchise hasn't been able to do that in their history. In their 15 seasons of play, this was the 2nd time they followed up a winning season with an 8-8 record. By way of comparison, the Atlanta Falcons put together winning seasons in back to back years in 2008 and 2009....for the first time in their history. That trick took them 43 years to accomplish. I like that fans demand better-than-average results, but let's keep things in perspective. Factoring in the amount of injuries the 2009 Panthers had to deal with, 8-8 is nothing short of miraculous. They put 12 players on injured reserve in 2009, and we aren't talking about 2nd and 3rd team players here.
  • Folks wanting John Fox to take a hike could do well to learn this saying: "The devil that you know is better than the devil that you don't know." I'm not calling John Fox a devil, mind you. I am saying that his track record is proven--his teams believe in his message, and his methods. They play hard for him. They don't give up. There is something to be said for a leader of men that continues to get results, and effort, and even more can be said of that leader when those results and that effort comes when the chips are down. Fox has one more season left on his contract. On Monday, he said he see himself back with the team in 2009 (during his radio show). Personally, I hope he does come back, and doesn't try and go somewhere else. Reports out there suggest he will meet with team owner Jerry Richardson next week. Is he deserving of a contract extension? Not for me to say, since I don't sign the checks, but I do think he deserves a bit of respect for the things he has done with this franchise since his arrival. It wasn't that long ago this football team was 1-15, and being kicked around in their own stadium by New England on the final weekend of the season. Fox came in and has made this franchise respectable in more ways than one. I don't buy the term "lame duck" coach, either. 2011 may be a year without football (although I don't believe it comes to that), and Richardson is simply going about his business (read tying up money he may have to pay out without games being played) carefully.
  • Jake Delhomme. 2010 couldn't get here fast enough for him. 2009 was a dreadful season, one I would only wish on the Chicago Cubs. Delhomme will be back with the team in 2010 (I believe), but he isn't guaranteed of anything more than a jersey at training camp. Delhomme will have to work, and work hard to earn the starter's job in 2010. It has come to the point where he is no longer the anointed number one QB. Matt Moore's play over the final 5 games of the season only added to that situation. Delhomme's struggles in the passing game in 2009 (dating back to the playoff loss to Arizona), put the franchise in a spot where they have to closely evaluate that position. Delhomme should get the shot to prove that 2009 was a fluke. Thing is, he will have to be perfect, and I mean PERFECT in camp, and exhibition games. Hats off to Moore, who showed the NFL that he has the game to lead a football team--not bad for a guy that was among the last players cut by the Dallas Cowboys 3 years ago.
  • Now, before we make Moore the second coming of Steve Beuerlein, let's point out that he wasn't asked to beat his opponents by slinging it around the yard. The Panthers (as I have mentioned in this blog all season long), are built on running the football. They ran it quite effectively in their final 4 wins, and Moore averaged 22 pass attempts per game in the final 5 games. He had a solid completion percentage in that time, completing 79 of those throws, for a 63% clip. Basically, if Carolina does what they do--run it well, throw when needed--they win. Moore didn't take too many deep shots down the field in his games, because he didn't have to. Delhomme was forced into that situation (and I will admit, he had something to do with it, by throwing untimely interceptions). Just keeping things in perspective.

In all, it was a year that many will both remember and forget--they'll forget the bad, remember the strong finish. All will look back on 2009 as the season that could have been.

Mike Solarte

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