Carolina vs. Denver Observations

The Panthers are 1 and 3, but the morning after makes it seem like 1 and 15. If you lived through it, it never truly goes away. But, as my old Pappy used to say, what doesn't kill you makes you better. I come away from this loss in Denver with a mixture of frustration, anger and, strangely, optimism. Here are a few of my observations of the game:<br><br>

- Injuries have definately made a difference to this team. Parity, pundits say, is at an all-time high due to free agency. Any team, they squeal, can get to a Super Bowl. While this is mostly true, and Carolina's talent level is as good overall as any, injuries to key skills players have had a major impact on the effectiveness of the squad. Which leads to...

-...Willpower - or the collective lack of it. It could be argued that Steve Smith set the physical tone for last season's Super Bowl team. He certainly did in training camp this year. When he went down, no one stepped up to take the leadership role on physicality. His presence might most be missed on special teams. On defense, having Buckner and Jenkins banged up on the defensive line takes away the ability to impose ones will. Run defense, as a result, has been attrocious. Last year's unit REFUSED to to allow teams to run on them. Not so this year. In short, the talent is still there. But the team as a whole isn't as tough mentally as last year's.

- I think Peppers should be dropped back into coverage more often. He can cover a tight end.

- Again, tight ends killed the Panthers at critical moments.

- Fox should have kept the red flag in his pocket after the Broncos fourth quarter TD. The guys up stairs either blew the call or Fox thought the team needed an attitude demonstration.

- The Panthers are not good enough to overcome these never-ending mental mistakes.

- Some Panthers said after the game that they will forgive Matt Willig for throwing the ref's flag. These players have job security. All others remained silent.

- Muhsin Muhammed, in my opinion, would be an excellent tight end.

- Chris Gamble seemed lost on several plays. Could it have been the thin air?

- I think I'd like to have a kicker that can kick it out of the end zone on kickoffs.

- The offensive line, for the most part, did a pretty good job protecting Jake Delhomme.

- It was Nick Goings who blocked poorly.

- Saw Mike Maser giving Willig a good 'ol butt chewing after his flag throwing feax pas. Rich Tylski kept his head down the whole time.

- Will Whitherspoon played better in pass coverage. He cut several Plummer routes, the biggest of which led to a Ricky Manning interception.

- The Panthers are tackling like the Redskins.

- Jake looked like an average quarterback today. An improvement.

- No turnovers.

- Still waiting for Dan Morgan to break out. He was sucking O2 by the end of the third quarter.

- Colbert is a keeper.

- So is Jordan and Moorehead. I want to see Duckett make it onto the field. Maybe if Buckner retires...

- I still like Fox's game-day approach. He refuses to make excuses.

- Droughens reminds me of TJ Duckett.

- Mike Rucker was a tenth of away from sacking Plummer in the fateful fourth quarter play that resulted in a Denver TD pass.

- Ricky Manning got a hand on that ball. It was just an incredible catch.

Like I said, some good, some bad, but enough positives to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I think Mark Field's return will give the entire defense a lift. Same for Davis. Jake's starting to click with his receivers and I'm seeing a little play-making fire in the eyes of the defesive secondary. The offensive line continues to improve, though I don't think the current collection will be anything more than average. Hoover is a Pro Bowler.

Missed assignments, poor technique on the D-Line, suceptibility to the cutback or trick play (a shovel pass at the five yard line?!!!), inexperience at the corners, special teams breakdowns, penalties... All things that've contributed to the Panthers being 1 and 3.

And all correctable.

Will it happen before next week's contest against the Eagles? Truly, I don't see it happening. Injuries have simply left the team lacking in key areas. As a result, the Panthers are still trying to form an identity. But I see enough in the smaller aspects of the team to think that when the tide is turned, when the franchise regains its identity, it will be a very dangerous football team.

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