The Carolina Panthers are one game away from the Super Bowl but a problem that has plagued them all season showed up again against the Seattle Seahawks and almost ended their season. The Panthers have done a good job of building leads early in games but have struggled to finish those games out and have let their opponent get back into the games.
In the Panthers 17 games this season, there has been seven times where they held a double digit lead in the second half and allowed the team to cut the lead down to one score.
|Week||Opponent||Panthers' Second Half Lead||Panthers' Outscored||Final Score|
|3||New Orleans Saints||27-16||7-0||27-22|
|9||Green Bay Packers||27-7||21-10||37-29|
|Divisional Round||Seattle Seahawks||31-0||24-0||31-24|
This issue showed up early in the season as the Houston Texans, with Ryan Mallett at quarterback, and the New Orleans Saints, with Luke McCown, was able to drive their team down in the final minutes and had chances at the endzone to tie the game up.
Then after a comeback in Week 6 against the Seahawks, the Panthers had three straight games with big leads but saw them slip away. They had a 21-6 lead over the Eagles but gave up 10 points in the third and the score was 21-16 after three quarters. The Panthers were able to bounce back in this won with two field goals from Graham Gano to lock it up.
The late game struggles seemed to be behind them with a late score against Seahawks and Eagles but then were outscored 41-16 in the final two quarters against the Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers.
The worst examples of these struggles though is the game against the NY Giants when they gave up 28 points over the final 17 minutes of the game. The Panthers failed to execute and over that stretch the offense punted twice, fumbled once and had a field goal blocked.
So, what is the problem?
Cam Newton had an interesting way of describing it by saying after the game, "There were a lot of guys playing with their butts tight.” The Seahawks came out quick in the second half with two touchdowns in the first four minutes of the half. The Panthers seemed to lose that confidence they played with in the first half with those two scores. They were playing with a sense of urgency but were not as loose as they were earlier in the game.
The biggest issue is that the Panthers struggle to find a balance between burning the clock and staying in a rhythm. Against the Seahawks, the Panthers were averaging a play every 32 seconds in the first half but that average drops to 33.8 seconds per play in the second half. In the fourth quarter, the offense slowed it down even more with a play every 36.8 seconds.
At the end of the day, this is a good issue to have because the Panthers have shown they can score early and build big leads. The important thing is that these struggles hasn't come back to hurt them yet and resulted in a loss. However, they are going up against the Arizona Cardinals, who was the second highest scoring team in the league, and can score quickly. If the Panthers get out early next week, they will need to stay aggressive and keep the offense in rhythm.