Skip to main content

Panthers ponder what could have been


When head coach Ron Rivera presented linebacker Thomas Davis with the game ball following Sunday's impressive victory over the Atlanta Falcons, Davis followed with an impassioned speech to his teammates.

But rather than talking about what had just happened, Davis focused on why it hadn't happened sooner.

Davis shared similar sentiments with reporters a couple of days before the game.

"I'm definitely disappointed in our record right now because I know we're a much better team than the record we have," Davis said. "We just haven't been able to finish some of these games, and it's extremely frustrating.

"I know that a lot of people are pointing fingers at the coaches, putting the blame on them. But if you go back and watch those games, the coaches have done a great job of putting the players in position to make plays. For some reason, we just haven't been able to make those plays."

The Panthers did make those plays Sunday to come away with a 30-20 victory. While Carolina took satisfaction in picking apart an Atlanta team that entered the game at 11-1, it also was a reminder of what could have been for the 4-9 Panthers.

"All the things seem to be coming together," Rivera said. "Unfortunately we didn't do it sooner, or it's just as much that we didn't finish some games that we should have."

The Panthers' schedule to date is littered with missed opportunities. In a league known for producing a plethora of close games, no team is going to win them all.  But if the Panthers had won even a conservative amount of their nail-biters, a playoff berth still would be a possibility.

Sunday's victory avenged perhaps the most painful loss of the season. Back in Week 4, when a win over an undefeated Atlanta team could have changed the entire direction of the season after a 1-2 start, the Panthers led 28-27 in the final minute, only to have the Falcons connect on a 59-yard pass from their own 1-yard line to set up a last-second field goal.

If that wasn't the hardest one to take, then it was the one against another NFC South rival just a few weeks ago. Carolina led Tampa Bay 21-10 in Week 11 with less than five minutes to play, but the Buccaneers rallied to force overtime and pulled out a 27-21 victory.

Just win those two games and the Panthers are 6-7, still mathematically alive for the playoffs though barely breathing.

While the Panthers will readily admit they had no business losing either of those games, the list of games that could have gone either way is much lengthier. Avoiding greed in this hypothetical scenario, say the Panthers had won just one of the two most disappointing toss-up losses, and the picture changes significantly.

Beat Seattle - which the Panthers came one yard short of doing – or Chicago, which Carolina had on the ropes before a pass-pattern slip gave the Bears an easy touchdown and new life, and the Panthers are 7-6.

That outcome would also drop either Seattle or Chicago to 7-6, meaning the Panthers currently would be tied for the NFC's final playoff spot.

Win both (I said I wasn't going to be greedy), and the Panthers currently hold the No. 5 seed and own the tiebreakers over nearly all of their pursuers.

It's easy to see why Davis had mixed feelings after receiving the game ball Sunday.

Related Content