PANTHERS MORNING AFTER

And so, again, fans are left wincing over their Monday morning coffee as the local media dig the knife in a little deeper into the latest Panthers loss. Forget the fact that half the team is on crutches. Forget the fact that the franchise took fans and media alike for a magic carpet ride to the Super Bowl last season. Forget the fact that, against the Raiders, the Panthers refused to quit and tied the game with a furious fourth quarter comeback.

FIRST AND TEN

There's an old saw about Monday morning quarterbacks: Those who can't, write.

And so, again, fans are left wincing over their Monday morning coffee as the local media dig the knife in a little deeper into the latest Panthers loss. Forget the fact that half the team is on crutches. Forget the fact that the franchise took fans and media alike for a magic carpet ride to the Super Bowl last season. Forget the fact that, against the Raiders, the Panthers refused to quit and tied the game with a furious fourth quarter comeback.

Nothing sells newspapers like good old fashioned bonfire.

Some of those-who-can't would argue that Monday's reporting reflects the bumbling, incompetent collection of walking wounded that is the Carolina Panthers. After all, there's only so much Vinny Ciurciu can do. And there's a kernel of truth in that assessment. The Panthers have lost five straight games. No getting around that fact.

But what surprises me most is the media's rush to demolish the season and move on to the next.

Perhaps, by looking ahead, fans allow themselves to forget the thunderstorms of the moment and think of sunnier days. But daydreaming of a high draft pick is not Prozac. There's nine games remaining in the season. Fans have to face that white elephant first. Why make things worse by throwing mud at it?

A Few Observations From Sunday's Contest

- The Panthers have won one coin toss this season.

- For the second week in a row, the opposition scored on their initial drive.

- The Panthers had 18 running plays. That's two less than in last week's loss.

- I like the physicality that Dante Wesley brings to the field. I swear he'd make a fine safety.

- Brentsen Buckner asserted himself Sunday. Mike Rucker disappeared.

- The Raiders ran left 75% of the time, right over Mike Rucker and Jordan Carstens.

- Robert Gallery is a player. So is Ronald Curry. We always knew Curry and Woody Dantzler would make fine receivers. .

- Carolina and Oakland tied in gross number of penalties with eight. Most of Oakland's, however, was on the Panthers final drive.

- I wonder if Jamal Broussard would gain more return yards on kickoffs if he didn't always run right up the middle?

- Muhsin Muhammad had a strong game. Ricky Proehl had one, too.

- Will Witherspoon was all over the field. Think he's getting the message?

- Jordan Carstens is overmatched.

- Special teams continue to disappoint. A blocked punt was the capper.

- Jake Delhomme is a fine quarterback but his loopy throwing motion on some plays is killing his effectiveness. I counted three over-throws that could have resulted in touchdowns or a big gainer.

- The Raiders averaged 51.3 net yards per punt. Carolina? 34.8. Winning the field position battle was why the Panthers paid their punter the league's top salary for the position.

- The coaching staff is finally beginning to identify team strengths and weaknesses.

- I think Jarrod Cooper proved that he was under-utilized in Carolina. I also think Cooper's impact in the game proves that his release was anything but a "football" decision.

- For the third straight game, the Panthers offensive line did its job in pass protection.

- I've speculated before that each loss will result in a lost starting job. Here's my six:

Brentsen Buckner

Muhsin Muhammed

Doug Brzezinski

Kindal Moorehead (Jenkins returns)

Rod Smart

Colin Branch

One more loss and I'll start with the coaching staff.

- The furious fourth quarter comeback was reminiscent of last season's magical run. I think the Panthers can build on that.

FOURTH AND GOAL

It's easy to sit back and take pot shots at a franchise that's struggling. It was just as easy to ride the tidal wave of last season's success. But the hard part comes when the emotional quotient is factored in.

Do you tank the season if you're, say, Mark Fields? Are you dreaming of the June draft if you're a season ticket holder standing in line to get a hot dog and a beer at halftime? Do you continue to wear that Julius Peppers jersey to work on Fridays, or wrap it in camphor until next fall?

It's fourth and goal for the opponent, with Carolina up by four and no time left on the game clock. One play to win or lose, for both teams. For the Carolina Panthers, one play to build on or one play for a better draft pick.

Where do you stand?

You can reach Chaz at chazestes@yahoo.com. Talk about it on the board by clicking here.

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