After going 15-1 last season and reaching Super Bowl 50, the Carolina Panthers unraveled in 2016. They finished 6-10, missed the playoffs and finished last in the NFC South.
What went wrong?
“I think we came up short in the fourth quarter,” Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “We didn’t make enough plays in the fourth quarter. (There was) a lack of execution. If you look at some of the games that we lost, it was lost in the fourth quarter, so we have to do a much better job of executing down the stretch. That proved to be the difference in our season.”
Might Josh Norman have been the difference? After all, the Panthers ranked sixth in the NFL in scoring defense in 2015, allowing 19.3 points per game. This year, they ranked 26th (25.1).
“It’s hard to say,” Davis said. “I don’t think one man could have changed what we had going on, but Josh Norman was a big part of what we did. But also our young guys, they grew up big time this year as well.”
Doug Gottlieb wonders if the Panthers’ season would have been different had that beaten Denver on opening night. Carolina beat San Francisco the following week and would have been 2-0. Instead, the Panthers lost four straight after a 1-1 start and were essentially out of the playoff hunt before their Week 7 bye.
Would a Week 1 win at Denver have saved Carolina’s season?
“It’s hard to say,” Davis said. “We could have built off the momentum of that. Really don’t know. But at the end of the day, I feel like even after that, we have to do a much better job of executing down the stretch.”
Davis had yet another lights-out season for Carolina, recording a team-high 106 tackles to go with 2.5 sacks, three interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. And yet, people wonder if the 33-year-old might retire this offseason.
Nope. Davis said there is a “100 percent” chance that he plays next season.
“Once you hit 12 years in the league and you play the position that I play, people are going to start to question that,” Davis said. “But as long as it has nothing to do with the way I’m playing, I’m just going to continue to go and not get caught up in it.”
As for this weekend’s playoff action, Davis believes that Atlanta will get past Seattle on Saturday, but it won’t be easy.
“I think that (the Seahawks are) a really good football team,” Davis said. “Russell Wilson is leading the attack there. Offensively, Thomas Rawls is running the football as well as anybody in the league right now. You think about some of the plays they’ve been able to make, I think it’s truly been special. But what I’m not liking is that defense. They are missing Earl Thomas – and it’s hard to replace a guy like that, but whenever you have all those other guys on the field that they have, it still makes for a pretty good defense. So I’m looking forward to seeing a really good football game this weekend, (but) if I had to pick, as bad as I hate to say it, I think Atlanta’s going to come away with the win.”