Corner a Panthers fan today and press them about their team, and they’ll likely react not dissimilarly to Cam Newton in his postgame press conference. Deep sighs, terse answers, and if you ask what it’s like to sit there and watch Carolina’s defense get burned again and again, they’ll probably make a break for it.
Newton was excellent in his return from a concussion, but Drew Brees was better, especially facing a pair of rookie cornerbacks, and the Panthers’ furious comeback went for naught when Brees led the Saints on an 11-play, 41-yard drive to set up a winning field goal with 11 seconds left. It’s not a surprise that the question that drove Newton from his microphone after a laconic, 90-second press conference, was about having to helplessly view that final Saints drive from the sideline.
(It’s tough to walk out of a presser when you’re dressed as dandily as Newton. It looks like you just remembered you’re late for a dinner party.)
The 41-38 loss drops Carolina to 1-5 entering their bye week, just one season after going 15-1 and making the Super Bowl. It takes a village for a turnaround like that, but the simplest, and on Sunday the most obvious explanation from last year, is the secondary. The Panthers let Josh Norman walk rather than keep him for $14 million under the franchise tag. They cut Bené Benwikere after he was smoked by Julio Jones. Second-round pick James Bradberry is still out with a foot injury. That left the starting corners as rookies Zack Sanchez and Daryl Worley (who left in the second half with a concussion and was replaced by Teddy Williams, a journeyman/practice squadder who did not play college football and, before signing with the Panthers this offseason, had only played one non-special teams snap since joining the NFL in 2010).
Drew Brees had a perfect passer rating when targeting Sanchez, according to Pro Football Focus, and Sanchez gave up two touchdowns, including this 87-yarder to Brandin Cooks. Watch the replay starting at 0:35 and see Sanchez get absolutely smoked by a not-particularly-strong double move by Cooks.
At 1-5, the Panthers’ season is likely already a lost one. Best to spend it figuring out who on that defense is good enough to stick around for the future, and to identify the positions on both sides of the ball that will need to be addressed (again) in free agency and the draft. Both noble missions, yet both entail wasting a year of Cam Newton’s prime. No wonder he doesn’t feel like talking.