Last year: 12-4, NFC South champs, lost in divisional round
Acquisitions: Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Thomas DeCoud, 800-year-old Roman Harper, Joe Webb, Tiquan Underwood’s hair
Departures: Steve Smith, Jordan Gross, Brandon LaFell, Mike Mitchell, Captain Munnerlyn, Jimmy Clausen
Player also guilty of domestic abuse but fewer people care because there’s no graphic video of the incident: Greg Hardy
Vegas 2014 win total over/under: 8.5 wins
Verdict: OVER (but not winning the division again over)
Five times Jerry Richardson has been a villain:
— That time he tried to buy the community center and turn it into his personal conflict diamond storehouse.
— That time he pledged $10 million to the Darren Wilson fund.
— That time he hit a dog with a car, put it in a bun and called it a sandwich.
— That time he anticipated my “Mr. Burns blocking out the sun” reference. Look, my sense of humor isn’t that obvious. POOR WIGGUM.
— That time he said he only got so evil by watching you.
Fan forecast by She Blinded Me With Violence:
[I walk up to the dais in a funeral home. It’s December 29, 2014. The NFL regular season ended yesterday.]
Friends, family, front office members, former teammates, it’s good to see all of you here today on this joyous occasion. Joyous because I come not to mourn Cam Newton, but to celebrate his life in Charlotte and the Carolina Panthers 2014 season. I never had the pleasure of meeting Cam personally, but knew him and his team well. And, sadly, he was taken from us entirely too soon.
A surprisingly strong 2013 saw the Panthers earn a 12-4 record and a 2-seed in the NFC on the back of Cam’s best season of his young career and the second best defense in the league. Noted Transitions Lens enthusiast and head coach Ron Rivera went from a hot seat to a seat at the poker table with a “Riverboat Ron” moniker. Dave Gettleman had come from the Giants with a solid reputation to replace former general manager Marty Hurney, who never met a horrible contract or draft he didn’t like. Did you folks know Cam was the only player left on the roster from the 2011 draft class going into the 2014 season? Oh, Marty, I didn’t see you in the back row there! At least you managed to not fuck up selecting the best college player in a generation with the first overall pick, am I right? Give Marty a hand, ladies and gentlemen.
Anyway, that season’s happy fun time ended in disappointment via a comprehensive Divisional round home defeat at the hands of the 49ers. Still, a lot of progress was made and there were plenty of reasons for hope headed into the offseason. Things were trending upward going into the final year of Cam’s rookie contract. A foundation had been laid. But no one realized the person who laid the foundation wasn’t licensed or insured and didn’t even know what “bonded” means and he reeked of alcohol and maybe you shouldn’t have let him work that day after all. Cracks in the foundation quickly began to show.
Left tackle Jordan Gross, the greatest offensive lineman in franchise history, unexpectedly announced his retirement in February. Starting left guard Travelle Wharton followed suit later. Cam suddenly found himself protected by All-Pro center Ryan Kalil and a bunch of average or unknown quantities, as Gettleman declined to find improvements in free agency and only drafted one lineman in May. But even though there was a good chance Cam would now be forced to scramble more often than not, at least he had familiarity with the receiving targets able to bail him out, like the reliable Greg Olsen and the irrepressible Steve Smith, right?
Save for Olsen, the receiving corps was completely gutted. Panther legend and fan favorite Smitty was deemed to be “a distraction” by Gettleman and is now in Baltimore where he’s made Joe Flacco look E-L-I-T-E and punched Ray Rice in the face on a daily basis. Ted Ginn Jr. parlayed his best season as a pro into a move to the Cardinals where he’s continued to shine. Oft-maligned Brandon LaFell was maligned off to the Patriots and caught – he held onto them and everything! – 70 passes from Brady. Not one wide receiver who had caught a pass last season returned this season. So in free agency, enter Eagles WR Jason Avant and Steelers WR Jerricho Cotchery. You might have thought the bloating feeling you got when you heard those names was a swelling of confidence, but turns out it was mild gas. In the draft, monstrous Kelvin Benjamin from Florida State was picked, FINALLY giving Cam the type of wide out needed to compliment Steve Smith on the other side and… oh, yeah… right. Thanks again, Marty! Big ups to you too, Dave!
The dominant defensive front seven remained almost entirely intact, anchored by reigning defensive player of the year Luke Kuechly. The mostly interchangeable parts in the secondary were mostly replaced with other mostly interchangeable parts, though Mike Mitchell’s egregious personal fouls and Captain Munnerlyn’s name would be sorely missed. The team couldn’t work out a new contract with All-Pro defensive end Greg “The Kraken” Hardy, but they put the franchise tag on him to keep him another year and exercised their fifth-year option on Cam. Surely, with more time and more cap space, long-term deals could be agreed with both players? But then Hardy got drunk in May and allegedly beat and body slammed Nelly’s ex-girlfriend on a couch covered in shotguns & assault rifles, giving the “Keep Pounding” team slogan coined by the beloved Sam Mills – long may his memory be a blessing – all sorts of uncomfortable undertones. Good luck with that contract and that jury trial next year, Greg. You spectacular wanna-be sea monster shithead.
Then there was Cam’s unexpected ankle surgery in March, causing him to miss the entirety of preseason workouts and the chance to get acquainted with his overhauled wide receiver corps. Not that it probably would have helped all that much since the offense and Cam’s development was still the jurisdiction of Mike Shula, which is giving the keys to a Ferrari to a dwarf too short to reach the gas pedal and shooting one of the tires. With Cam hobbled and lacking the same comfort in running as he did before, the usual backfield trio of Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, and Mike Tolbert were counted on to pick up the rushing slack, despite Stewart not being fully healthy in two years, Williams never reaching 900 rushing yards since receiving a 5-year $43 million contract coming off a season-ending injury in 2010 [winks at Marty], and Tolbert being a fullback. Kenjon Barner was shipped out to recreate his glory days with Chip Kelly in Philly and the front office bumblefucked 6th round pick Tyler Gaffney to the Patriots for nothing. Fozzy Whittaker was signed as insurance and looked like a bear to bring down in the preseason. Waka waka waka.
And, ahhh, the sweet relief of preseason. Some normalcy after all the offseason turmoil. But it was shortly lived as Newton promptly suffered a fractured rib in his second exhibition game, a harbinger of things to come. The Panthers took the field at newly-renovated Bank of America Stadium after jowl volume Guinness World Record holder Jerry Richardson managed to bilk Charlotte for $87.5 million in public money (with a potential $50 million more to come) under threat of relocating the team. In his defense, at the ripe old age of 18 years, the stadium was practically condemned! The new product on the field wasn’t as pretty as their new surroundings. The already-fragile Cam missed five games after Gerald McCoy played his rib cage like a xylophone in Week 1 down in Tampa, leaving the offense temporarily in the incapable yet supple hands of Horse Balls Anderson. The team found itself a languid 3-7 with Riverboat Ron holding the short stack at the table, but closed out 5-1 to end the season thanks to the still stellar defense, the unfortunate death of Mike Shula after he was unable to unlock the complexities of a Chinese finger trap, and a battered and broken Cam finally finding a modicum of rhythm with his wide outs while limping for his livelihood away from pursuing defenders. We were quickly denied even that small measure of positivity, as Cam suffered a torn labrum and broken ankle in the fourth quarter yesterday, effectively ending his 2015 before it even began. 8-8 wasn’t enough to make the playoffs and the organization has more questions now than they did coming into the season.
You know, now that I’ve said all this, the season kinda sucked and maybe this ain’t such a joyous occasion after all. But we will forever fondly remember the always ebullient Cam’s last words as a Panther as he was stretchered off the Georgia Dome field yesterday, “Fuck this and fuck y’all, I’m out.”
And in that same spirit, the Liberty Bowl starts in an hour and I want to see Bama interim head coach Lane Kiffin give Kansas & Charlie Weis a 1-0 record against the Tide. So long, suckers. Please sign the guestbook before you leave and Keep Pounding!