CHARLOTTE — Expectations are a funny thing sometimes. They can mess with your head. That’s why it generally helps to have a very microscopic view of the task at hand, but a macro view of the situation as a whole.
For instance, if the season ended today, the 3-2 Panthers would be getting ready for a playoff game, and even if they lost it, they’d be preparing to pick 21st in the 2022 NFL Draft.
(Also, a lot of people would be saying, “Why did the season end on the Tuesday of Week 6?”)
Of course, the season doesn’t end today, so we go back to the last piece of evidence because recency bias is real.
And you don’t need me to tell you it didn’t go so well.
Panthers tackle Taylor Moton is as close to the Stoic ideal as they come in that locker room. Like, if Marcus Aurelius his ownself was 6-foot-5 and 325 pounds, he wouldn’t have a better sense of wisdom and self-control, and not letting emotions get in the way of reason than this guy.
So when Moton was asked about losing to the Eagles Sunday, even he slouched for a second.
“It was tough,” he said moments after the game. “It was definitely tough. Personally, I have to get better in the second half.”
He then let out a low and protracted “uggggghhhhhhh,” and acknowledged the obvious.
“It hurt,” he said. “That’s a game we should have won.”
That’s probably an appropriate response for one that got away from them in the moment. And it’s definitely the mood after a loss that had many fathers. But they can’t go back and unblock that punt, and they can’t make a better coverage decision on an out-of-nowhere 53-yard pass from a stagnant offense, and they can’t magically give Sam Darnold a second to look past his first read before there’s a 300-pound person in a different uniform on top of him.
So we proceed. But we proceed with the perspective that it’s not necessarily as bad as it looked Sunday, just as it probably wasn’t as good as it looked when they were 3-0.
That’s why Panthers head coach Matt Rhule always talks about going 1-0 every week, and it’s going to be hard to get them thinking about anything other than the Vikings for the next five days. That’s all they can do, is focus on that work.
I, on the other hand, have a sack full of mail to deal with. Angry, belligerent, hateful mail, some of it. So let’s wade through it together, but let’s keep in mind, there are 12 more of these ahead of us.
Why does this franchise never prioritize offensive linemen when the Panthers love to run the ball? — Matt, Charlotte
It is true that the Panthers haven’t used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman since 2008, when they took tackle Jeff Otah 19th overall.
That’s why I am firm in my conviction that the Panthers will use their first four picks on offensive linemen when the 2021 NFL Draft starts tonight at 8 p.m. on NFL Network. Oh wait, I’m being told by @pantherstatsguy that was actually in April, and there’s not another one until next year. Hmph. That certainly complicates things.
Do they know they could use more line help? They do. Are they working phones, searching day and night for a scarce commodity? They are. Are they looking at internal options, trying to see if shaking some things up yields a better result? Also yes.
And listen, nobody likes talking about offensive line stuff more than I do. But the roster is what it is at the moment, and there’s not a lot out there. It’s not completely Run What You Brung night at Shuffletown Dragway, but it’s close. Some options are being considered. None of them are going to replenish years of moves not made. Not today. Can’t fix that now. So better to spend energy on what they can do. Which they are.
Toxic fandom exists for a lot of teams (and in other forms of entertainment). The Panthers have always had their share, whether from PSL owners who sell to opposing fans or, of course, in the echo chambers of social media and online forums. I’ve been a fan since ’95, and am used to knee-jerk, Chicken Little reactions. It’s easy to see lower bowl tickets sold to opposing fans, but do the players or coaches hear the negative online chatter? Is the only antidote to ignore it? — Chris, Mooresville, NC
Probably, but good luck with that. They’d love to. And many of them will tell you they pay no attention to the outside world. But they also live in 2021, and have phones that ping in exchange for that dopamine hit of attention every moment of the day, because that’s the world we live in.
And, as an aside, the internet may be the worst thing in the history of things. (He writes in his online mailbag column [#selfawareness].)
Seriously, of all inventions of the last 1,000 years, the internet ranks right down there with handguns, tequila and the internal combustion engine in terms of enabling and creating the environment for bad decisions.
Every conversation is conducted at a screech, even the ones that aren’t in ALL CAPS. And it also creates environments for people to screech about a single topic, in picayune detail, with like-minded screechers. That ain’t necessarily healthy, gang.
Let’s go outside and look at a leaf or something. Or play with a dog. Or have an emotionally available conversation with an actual person.
Yeah, I know, we always come back to the internet. This is our burden. But if we’re going to be here, I’m at least going to provide you with the best thing this devil has ever given us.
Verily, the world has gone insane. And you don’t know what is right. You’ve got to keep on keeping on, so get on that pig and hold on tight.
tl;dr the internet is bad except for Panthers.com.
How did you get Stephon Gilmore? — Sam, Greenbrier, AR
See, as the guy who curates this mailbag, I get to put these questions in whatever order I please. And I put this one here on purpose, because inspired by the tenacity of Baby Monkey, I’d rather light a candle than curse your darkness.
The bleakness of the Eagles game kind of obscured the fact that the Panthers traded a 2023 sixth-round pick for the 2019 NFL defensive player of the year last Wednesday. Read that out loud to yourself and let it sink in.
That’s good news. Really good, actually. For reasons beyond the temporal.
Gilmore is one of those rare kinds of corners, he’s what football guys call that guy. The guy you can just turn on a dude and not hear from him again. He’s 31, and coming off a quad injury that will keep him ineligible until Week 7 against the Giants, and they only have him under contract for the final 10 games of the season, so it’s not a franchise-changer yet. But here’s the weird part.
He wanted to be here.
Gilmore’s from Rock Hill, and lives in the South Charlotte suburbs, a couple of doors down from general manager Scott Fitterer. So it’s home.
But you could tell when the man started talking about Tshimanga Biakabutuka on his first day at work, that this was more meaningful to him than just a short commute.
There’s a sense of pride in place for him that’s clear. He’s one of us. And for all the great NFL players that have come from the greater York County area, he’ll be the first one to play in a regular-season game for his hometown team.
NFL players don’t always get to pick their destinations. Gilmore said even if the Patriots had released him, he’d have likely signed here rather than chase a ring with one of the usual suspects. That means something.
Hello Darin & Carolina Panther Nation. My question is with the trade for cornerback CJ Henderson, giving up a third-round pick and gaining a fifth-round pick. With the trade made to pick up Darnold, this leaves us a little thin in the top rounds of the draft and needing to address many areas of need. As it stands, we have no second, third, or fourth, if I’m correct. The team would have to hit home runs with a trade of the first but then again we may select an ideal player that checks all the boxes. If that happens then we go back to mortgaging the future and that’s not ideal. So just curious as to your take on the future draft status for 2022? Go Panthers and keep pounding! — Ron, Lillington, NC
I’m very much in wait-and-see mode when it comes to panicking this week. There’s enough to go around.
The Panthers have six total picks at the moment, and as Ron mentioned, there’s a pretty good gulf between the first-rounder and their next one, the Rams’ fourth-rounder from the trade with Houston. (They also have their own fifth, Jacksonville’s fifth, either their sixth or the Raiders’ [the higher one goes to Buffalo], and Miami’s seventh.
That’s worrisome, if you only think about the picks themselves. If Darnold plays the way he did the first three weeks, and continues to progress, that’s a good investment of a second-round pick. If Henderson turns into a player, that’s a great investment of a third.
But mostly, I’m not freaking out about the total number of picks because I assume that sum will be greater, later. Fitterer has developed a reputation for a reason.
I’m guessing he’s not done moving around, so I’m not chiseling the picks they have into stone anytime soon.
Since lack of energy in the third quarter is a recurring problem, I was wondering what kind of refreshment the players are offered during halftime? I know fruit is one choice, but what are others? Healthy smoothies? Energy drinks? — Susan, Inman, SC
A couple of weeks ago, I made a joke about eating soup, but clearly this is an object of widespread fascination. So I committed a journalism, and started asking questions about the halftime menu.
The answer is more boring than you’d think. One staffer said, “think halftime of your kid’s soccer games.” Even a more detailed explanation doesn’t yield anything exotic.
There are deli sandwiches, a lot of PB&J. There’s fruit, some nutrition bars. The point is a quick carbohydrate refresh to get them through another two quarters of work, without being too heavy.
They also have some hydration options. At this level, water and Gatorade are kind of the baseline, and enough for most guys. Some players go for pickle juice, for that extra burst of salinity to try to prevent cramping.
I wish the answer was more interesting. And I say that as a kid who grew up seeing Len Dawson with a Fresca and a heater while in full pads at halftime of the Super Bowl.
Oddly enough, this is no longer recommended for peak athletic performance.
Also, because I like Susan and she deserves it for showing up practically every day during training camp, I’m making her this week’s Ask The Old Guy Friend of the Mailbag, and as soon as we have merch, she’s getting the 11th piece of it behind me, Hal from Canada, Westray from Kershaw, Joseph formerly of Concord who’s moving away for some big fancy job with a desk, Sunny from Houston, Adam from Germany, Long-Winded Donovan, Juan from Argentina, Wise Bob from Colorado, and Newlywed Alex.
Darin, this was not very fun. No way else to put it. It was especially tough as a fan sitting in the stadium and dealing with so many Eagles fans. It seems like this offense has no answer to stopping pressure on Sam. What can we look forward to that can make us feel better about this offense? Also, for all that is good in this city, can we please figure out a way to have a home field advantage? — Chris, Charlotte
As Chris certainly knows because he gets to wake up every morning in Charlotte, he’s already among the most fortunate one percent of all people ever born on Earth.
As to his first question, I guess you’d start with Christian McCaffrey could be back this week. That’s the kind of deodorant that covers up a lot of stuff (and Chuba Hubbard was quite good in his absence).
As for who’s buying tickets, I can’t help you there. I have enough people yelling at me without trying to regulate a free market economy.
Should Panthers take a look at signing Jaylon Smith? — James, Springfield, MA
(This is the danger of a weekly mailbag, the verb tenses get screwy when news happens.)
They should. They did. But the hope is that linebacker Shaq Thompson’s foot injury isn’t a long-term one, so they weren’t in a rush to sign a name-brand starter.
Smith had a reduced role as time passed in Dallas, but the fact he was a former Pro Bowler made him interesting. But what they were looking for was more of a third inside linebacker for a two-man set, and he’s probably looking for a clear path to a starting job and all the snaps. So the Packers were likely the better fit.
As long as Thompson is back in a week or so, they should be all right. They are high on Kamal Martin as a contributor. He started some games for the Packers last year, and he could turn into that inside linebacker depth they lacked.
But Fitterer wasn’t joking when he said they’d be “in on every deal.”
How did Brady Christensen grade out in Eagles game? — Howard, Clarksville, VA
Not awful. Not great. Like a lot of them, actually. For rookie making his first start, it wasn’t a disaster or anything.
Christensen’s still an interesting prospect, but there were a couple of moments in that game when his lack of arm length showed up.
(His 32-1/4-inch arms are the reason NFL teams were slightly cool on him as a left tackle prospect coming out of BYU. When you face bigger, faster, longer pass-rushers in the NFL, not being able to reach them immediately can give them a split-second advantage that matters.)
When they were drafting him, the Panthers had a second-round grade on him at guard, and a third-round grade at tackle. I’m interested to see if he eventually ends up inside. Like all rookies, he needs to get stronger (the difference between college strong and NFL strong is the difference between a hobby and a full-time job). But he’s enough of an athlete and he’s smart enough about the game that he’s definitely worth the time to develop.
OK, deep breath. That will cover us for this week. Stay tuned for the latest, and hit us with questions for next week’s bag (positive, negative, or factual) at the link below.