If all you looked at was a box score, you’d have thought the Panthers were winning. After all, Christian McCaffrey had 237 yards from scrimmage, Cam Newton was nearly perfect passing, and they held the Seahawks rushing game to their lowest total since Week Two.
But if you look at the standings, you realize they’ve lost three in a row, after yesterday’s brutal loss to the Seahawks followed their head-scratcher to the Lions and a blowout at the hands of the Steelers.
“Three weeks ago, if somebody would have said that this was going to happen, I would’ve slapped him,” Newton said, via Joe Person of The Athletic. “Things happen and nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. We’re just opening up a lot of hope for a lot of other teams that we can’t bear to allow happen.”
Three weeks ago, the Panthers looked like the best team in the next tier down from the Saints and Rams in the NFC. Now, they’re on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, and trying to figure out what to do next.
Some players were apparently talking about winning five straight to close the season, but veteran tight end Greg Olsen demanded a tighter focus.
“We’ve got a lot of s— to figure out before we worry about winning five games,” Olsen said. “I told you guys last week we have to worry about one game, and we haven’t won one game in three week.
“Forget about five, we’ve got to win one.”
The loss featured another key miss by kicker Graham Gano (though Ron Rivera played conservatively for a game-winning 52-yard field goal after pushing all his chips to the middle of the table on a two-point conversion in Detroit). But more troubling was the collapse of their defense late, as they gave up big plays to Russell Wilson in the spot where injured rookie cornerback Donte Jackson would have been.
“We’ve gotta play better complementary football. That’s the difference between good teams and great teams,” Newton said. “When the defense is getting stops, we’ve gotta score points. When we come up short, we’ve gotta succeed on special teams. That’s where we are right now. Nobody’s to blame. This is a team loss, and we’ve gotta understand that we’ve gotta be a better team.”
Three weeks ago, they looked like one.