It's finally over. The Carolina Panthers have mercifully ended the season that at one point looked like it would never end. It went from 2-2 after four games to 4-4 after eight games and slid to 5-7 after twelve games.
What did the final quarter of the season hold? Amazingly, the team still had a chance at the playoffs. Though Tampa Bay sewed up the division fairly early on, and Atlanta floundered without Michael Vick - and got worse when Bobby Petrino bolted to return to college. Somehow after thirteen games, the Panthers just had to win out and get a little help to find themselves a wild card.
Unfortunately (#1), they had three games that weren't terribly winnable. But first, the game that meant that had to win out: Jacksonville. It's not bad enough that the two teams came into the league in the same year, but now the Jags have Jack Del Rio as their head coach (Del Rio was a big reason the Panthers had a good defense). Unfortunately, they were just too much for the Panthers and John Fox actually says that changes aren't needed. I understand supporting your guys, but surely he could have said something. a 34-6 loss sends the team to a measly 5-8 record, meaning they need to win the last three to have any chance at a postseason berth.
Unfortunately (#2), Seattle came to town the next week. You might remember the Seahawks. They shut down Steve Smith in the NFC Championship game a couple years ago, and the Panthers really haven't done anything since. it's like they discovered the magic formula and told everyone about it. Amazingly, however, John Fox, who just last week said nothing needed to change, makes a change. He starts rookie Matt Moore at quarterback and somehow the cats pull out a 13-10 win. 6-8.
Moore wasn't pretty in the win, but he did the job. I said back in early November that Moore needed a chance, and perhaps he wasn't ready. But I'm glad he got the start. There's no chance that David Carr will be back next year, and if Jake Delhomme can't recover from his surgery, the Panthers need someone who can play, so it's good that they gave him a chance. DeAngelo Williams also broke free for a late touchdown run and the score was only so close because of a last-second touchdown. Literally. The Seahawks scored with one second on the clock. It's too late this season, even if the playoffs happen, but it's a good win.
After this win, who should come to town but Dallas. Some of the franchise's largest wins have come against the Cowboys, and Tony Romo was coming off a bad week, where apparently he lost because rumored girlfriend Jessica Simpson was in the stands. We should have brought her to Charlotte, because we could have used the help. A couple of bad calls (non-calls, really) and the Panthers did play close, but Moore gets his first loss. 6-9.
The playoffs are definitely out, but it is another good game against a strong team. It also seems like John Fox will probably be back next year because of a strong showing - well, that and because Bill Cowher has said that he doesn't want to coach next year (he told that to the Atlanta folks). So perhaps he's made a deal with Jerry Richardson and we'll see him in 2009.
For the finale, the Panthers traveled to Tampa Bay. The Bucs are actually he closest thing we have to a rivalry. You could say that the Falcons are a rival, but the games against the Bucs are usually good, while the games against the Falcons aren't. This one is no exception. Even though the Bucs rest many starters for their playoff game next week, it's a good game, and Moore picks up another win, showing that even if Jake can't make it back next year, the Panthers might have a viable backup option. They also avoid double-digit losses. 7-9.
Most impressive was Moore's performance. Not many rookies could come in and do what he did. Of course he threw to Steve Smith, but he also hit some other targets, which even Jake Delhomme had trouble doing. I really hope to see him stick around next year and for a few years after. I hope Jake comes back from his surgery, because I think a year or two under Jake would serve Moore well, and then he could be a serious quarterback of the future. If Jake should go down, Moore is actually a viable option.
It was also good to see DeAngelo Williams get some carries. I think for the first time this year, he carried most of the load, while DeShaun Foster was the secondary back. It often ends up that way, but I feel like it was actually intended to work that way in this game.
At the end of the game, Vinny Testaverde came in and kneeled down to take the final snap - that ended the game, the season and his 21-year career. He retired after the game.