2013: 12-4; lost in Divisional Playoffs to San Francisco
Cam Newton couldn’t do it all himself in his first three NFL seasons, and he let his frustration be known in 2012. Reeling off four wins to close the year was nice, but could it carry over to 2013? At first, it appeared not. The Seahawks stymied the Panthers offense in Week 1. Then the Panthers blew it in Buffalo on a last-second TD drive. Very few 0-2 NFL teams rally to make the playoffs; this just happened to be one of them. Carolina came home to demolish the Giants 38-0 as the first game of their 11-2 stretch to close the season. On the way they even beat the Patriots and the 49ers in San Francisco. The fact that Cam Newton’s numbers (3,379 pass yards, 585 rush yards, 30 total TDs) were down across the board in probably a good thing--that means he didn’t have to do it all himself finally and the Panthers weren’t playing from behind nearly as much. Between Newton, DeAngelo Williams (843 rush yards), Mike Tolbert (5 TDs), and Jonathan Stewart (injured most of 2013 but great in years past), the Panthers were the deepest team in the league on the ground. Steve Smith (745 rec yards) had another down year after a two-year renaissance, ending his career in Carolina. But with over 12,000 rec yards and 67 TDs in 13 years with the Panthers, he was undoubtedly one of if not the best player in the history of the young franchise. TE Greg Olsen (73 rec, 816 yards), always a Newton favorite, remains the top target. But in losing Smith and Brandon LaFell (627 rec yards), wide receiver quickly became a huge need. Enter first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin from Florida State, who could start immediately.
The Panthers went defensive for most of the rest of the draft, but Stanford RB Tyler Gaffney in the sixth round is a pick you should keep an eye on. Williams is 30 years old, so Gaffney could take over the starting job in the future. There is no doubt that the defense was the main difference on how the Panthers were able to win games in 2013, however. The passing defense was sixth and the rushing defense second in the league, thanks in large part to a dominant secondary and linebacking core. They allowed the fewest points per game in the NFC at barely over two touchdowns. DE Greg Hardy (15 sacks), MLB Luke Kuechly (96 tackles, 4 INTs), OLB Thomas Davis (85 tackles, 4 sacks), DE Charles Johnson (11 sacks) and S Mike Mitchell (4 INTs) were some of the key players involved. Hardy was franchised. Mitchell signed with Pittsburgh so Carolina signed accomplished S Thomas DeCoud from Atlanta to replace him. They also replaced CB Captain Munnerlyn, a big loss, with downgrade Antoine Cason from Arizona. Veteran S Roman Harper was brought in too. This year Carolina has tough road games at Cincinnati, Green Bay, and Philadelphia, and great home games against Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Cleveland (Newton vs Manziel?!). Get tickets for those games and more at Gold Coast Tickets!