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Strickly Panthers: Not the same start


Six games into the 2010 season, the Panthers stood 1-5.

Six games into the 2011 season, the Panthers stand 1-5.

That's where the similarities end.

"There is light at the end of the tunnel," first-year head coach Ron Rivera said. "There is hope that we can talk about, and it's exciting."

Yes, a team's record is the ultimate bottom line in the NFL, but a team's performance to get to that record gives a strong indication of what kind of win-loss record can be expected in the future.

Coming off a trio of close losses to 2010 playoff teams and going into a three-game homestand against teams that didn't make the 2010 playoffs, there's talk among fans about the possibility of a winning streak.

At this point last year, some fans already had turned their attention to 2011, some even admitting they wouldn't mind seeing the losses continue to pile up so the Panthers could get a high pick in the subsequent draft.

The Panthers finished 2-14 and ended up with the highest of picks, selecting quarterback Cam Newton at No. 1 overall. Now, six games into his tenure, Newton is a big part of the reason why this year's 1-5 doesn't feel the same as last year's 1-5.

"It's exciting because we are growing as a football team," Rivera said. "Sure, we're not playing good enough in some areas yet, but the key word is 'yet.' It's going to happen."

While Newton has taken every snap this season, the Panthers used four quarterbacks in 2010, including the first career start for eight-year veteran Brian St. Pierre. Those four quarterbacks combined to produce nine passing touchdowns with no rushing touchdowns over the entire season; Newton has accounted for 13 touchdowns (seven passing, six rushing) just six games into the season.

The Panthers finished 2010 ranked last in the NFL in total offense (258.4 yards per game) and scoring offense (12.2). So far this year, they're averaging 160 more yards and 10 more points per game.

Stats, however, barely begin to tell the tale of how the two teams compare.

Last year the Panthers enjoyed the lead just twice in their first half-dozen games. They led the season opener 3-0, and they led at New Orleans in Week 4 for much of the second half before the Saints rallied. Otherwise, they had little realistic hope of winning before coming back to edge the San Francisco 49ers for their first victory following an 0-5 start.

This season, the Panthers have led every game at some point, with all of them – including the lone victory over Jacksonville – being decided in the fourth quarter.

In losses to Atlanta, Green Bay and Chicago (all 2010 playoff teams), the Panthers had the ball late with a chance to tie or take the lead, only to fall short and then have the opposition seal the outcome with a touchdown that gave them a two-score lead.

In the loss to New Orleans (another playoff team), the Saints scored in the final minute to pull it out. In the loss to Arizona, the Panthers got inside the 10-yard line but failed to score in the final minute to pull it out.

The 2010 team's first five losses came by an average of 11.6 points. Then, over the final 10 games, the Panthers lost nine by an average of 18.2 points.

The 2011 team's first five losses have come by an average of 7.2 points. Despite the continued impact of injuries, inexperience and inconsistency, don't expect a repeat of last year's 1-9 finish and last year's trend toward even more lopsided losses.

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