SANTA CLARA, Calif. – When teams win games, so often you'll hear them credit offense, defense and special teams. Sunday we saw what can happen when all three units contribute to a loss.
"This was the ultimate team meltdown," tight end Greg Olsen said after the Panthers' 38-point setback at San Francisco.
In too many ways, it was reminiscent of a similar performance 353 days ago in Pittsburgh. Coming into that game, the Panthers were feeling good about themselves at 6-2 and on a three-game win streak. But a 52-21 rout sent them into a tailspin, one they didn't come out of until they had lost seven straight games. So after Carolina gave up 51 points Sunday while snapping its four-game win streak, the "how do you not let this turn into another post-Pittsburgh slide?" question had to be asked.
"That's totally legitimate," Olsen said. "To ignore that and pretend, 'Oh, it's not going to happen,' well, it happens if you allow it to happen. We allowed it to happen last year, never got our momentum back and it tanked our season. We'll find out if this group is better.
"Is this group going to respond better than it did last year? Is it going to be just one bad game? That's the plan, but it doesn't just happen. You've gotta make that happen."
The first step is learning from the past. That's right, the Panthers now need to dig back into those memories from last year, because as painful as they are, they hold some key lessons.
"You hope you learn that you don't just go out and win games. That's kind of what happened last year is, 'Ah, the next game, the next game, the next game.' Well, there's always a next game, but you don't just go out and win games. That's not how the NFL works," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "You've got to make plays. You've got to play your gap, play your responsibility and hopefully last year we learned from that and understand that seasons are fragile and you've got to make the most of every game.
"You don't just speak it into existence. We have to be honest with ourselves about what happened and how we can get better."
That means a defense that doesn't lose its gap integrity as often as it did against the 49ers. That means catching punts and kickoffs cleanly. That means blocking better up front and getting rid of the ball quicker but not forcing throws. It all means spending the next few days drilling down into what went wrong.
It may be easier just to burn the tape, but that tape is too important.
"When a team puts up 50 on you, every time you think about it, it's going to hurt you to the core," edge rusher Mario Addison said. "You've got to learn from it. If you don't learn from the past, you're doomed to repeat it.
"We had a good team last year, but we didn't start over. We lost seven in a row after that. You can lose a team like that. So this game, we've got to learn from it and come back out and respond. If you don't respond, it's hard to keep going week by week."
So the days ahead could tell us plenty about the rest of the season. Bounce back by beating the Titans and this loss can start to fade in the rearview mirror because the alternative isn't a road anyone wants to start going down again.
"You can see what happens if you don't get back on track. You let one bad night ruin the entire second half of our season, that's what happened last year. You hope that we're more aware of that," Olsen said.
"A lot of guys understand and have a bitter taste in their mouth from how that second half of the year went last year, and this is a new team and a new season and all that. If you handle it right, it's not an issue. If you don't respond the right way and you think, 'Oh, it won't happen again' just because we say it's not going to happen, you're going to be in trouble."
View photos from Week 8 as Carolina takes on San Francisco.