The Tale of the Once and Future Panthers
“[Fill in name of miserably performing quarterback] gives us the best chance to win.” This season we heard this repeatedly from Jeff Fisher and John Fox. They said it week after week after week as if it were the gospel truth. The Titans lost games where Kerry Collins hardly moved the ball past the line of scrimmage. Remember the stat line: 2-12, -7 yards, 1 interception? The Panthers dropped contests were Jake Delhomme could barely complete a pass — to his own teammates. Remember the stat line: 7-17, 73 yards, 4 interceptions? And, they both had superior running games and strong, physical defenses to support them. In short, there were no excuses.
Fisher and Fox were freed from the fell clutch of fatal finishes by the forgotten Vince Young and the phantom phenom Matt Moore. Neither is likely to be fired this season, and for that, they’re fortunate. Lovie Smith hasn’t been so lucky. He is in the crosshairs of a miserly owner who has yet to invest in an elite wide receiver. Rex Grossman is gone, but so are Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad. Smith, unlike Fisher and Fox, has a new set of problems now. His “Quarterback of the Future” has done little more than invoke memories of Bad Brett Favre. Collins and Delhomme could have used a pep talk from Donovan McNabb, but it would not have made a bit of difference. The writing was on the wall at the end of last season.
At the end of 2008, the Titans were summarily dismissed from the playoffs the moment that Ed Reed twisted Chris Johnson into a pretzel forcing him from the game. The Titans were no longer able to use their most dynamic offensive weapon. It was a matter of time before the Ravens boa constrictor tactics finished off their favored hosts. In North Carolina, the Panthers were hosting a team they fully expected to throttle. But Delhomme played one of the worst playoff games in memory. The Panthers had no chance and never unleashed the power and speed of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. Game over.
Offensive Offense and Defensive Coaching
Fisher and Fox have a few more things in common. They are defensive coaches by trade. They each refused to see the writing on the wall — even as their teams went down the tubes. Both were defensive in their support of the incumbent. Fisher even took his commitment into a pitched (and unwinnable) battle with the franchise owner, Bud “F You” Adams. The Tennessee Titans won 13 games in 2008. In 2009, they lost six consecutive games to start the season.
The Carolina Panthers won 12 games last season. Carolina started off 0-3 and after consecutive losses to the Dolphins and Jets later this season, they dropped to 4-7. Fox firmly held the conviction that no one on the Carolina roster was even capable of winning a game. (Fox must not have been aware that Delhomme was 7-14 for 90 yards when the Panthers beat Arizona.)
Playing to the Level of the Competition
The Panthers, like the Steelers and Raiders in the AFC, appear to be playing to the level of their competition. Carolina has notched wins over Minnesota and Arizona, but lost to Buffalo. They played alarmingly close games with the Redskins and Buccaneers, but they have a running back tandem that is arguably the best in the league.
The Titans, meanwhile, are simply a rejuvenated bunch who know they have a chance to win every game. They’ve suffered only one defeat (to Indianapolis) since Vince Young’s insertion into the lineup.
Previous Performance is no Predictor of Future Returns
Is the performance of the stock market so dismal that coaches like Fisher and Fox simply stopped reading their quarterly financial statements? Perhaps. The decisions to stay with Collins beyond Week 3 (I warned them) will prove fatal to the playoff hopes of the Titans – if not to the job security of the coach. Personal savior and part-time prom date Vince Young has kept the Titans in the mix and scored dramatic wins over several playoff contenders including the Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals (99-yard drive).
I tried to tell the Panthers, too. Back on September 17, I wrote that Delhomme had several glaring weaknesses to his game. While I didn’t advocate for him to get yanked at that time, I noted that unless those problems were fixed, the team would go nowhere. Today, they are 6-8 are out of playoff contention in the NFC. Matt Moore, conversely, just authored a surprising win over the Minnesota Vikings by going 21-33 for 299 yards and 3 touchdowns. So, the outstanding question, for which I have no answer, is why did John Fox believe that Jake Delhomme gave his team the best chance to win?
Loyalty is a precious thing in any walk of life…but so is honesty. Sometimes, players who have been to the mountain top, like Delhomme and Collins (both SB losers for the Panthers and Giants, respectively). Neither were able to make the plays necessary to win games. Both teams are better for the change — and we’ll all be served by ignoring coaches when they say that struggling QB “gives us the best chance to win.”