The Carolina Panthers came into the 2020 season rebuilding the team after a change in the coaching staff and the release of the star quarterback, Cam Newton. The Panthers finished the 2019 season 5-11 and were definitely looking to improve upon that in the 2020 season. Unfortunately, Carolina finished the 2020 season with the same record as the year before.
Carolina’s first big move following the disappointing season was hiring new head coach, Matt Rhule. Rhule in turn brought Joe Brady on board as his offensive coordinator.
During the free-agency period, Carolina made significant changes to the roster. One of the more surprising moves was the retirement of Luke Kuechly and the addition that made the most noise was the signing of quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater. The free-agency period also brought Robby Anderson to Carolina from the New York Jets, while the organization and Greg Olsen came to a mutual agreement to part ways.
Carolina had the seventh pick in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft and chose Derrick Brown as their first pick. Subsequently, the Panthers ended up using all seven picks to add to the defensive line.
The Panthers started off the season with two losses, won the next three games, and then lost five games in a row before shutting out the Detroit Lions, 20-0. Carolina lost four of the last five games, winning against the Washington Football Team, 20-13.
What Went Right
The offense put points on the board and was often able to avoid blow out losses. Of the 16 games played, 11 of them were decided by eight or fewer points. In turn, this also shows growth in the defensive line and that Rhule knew his plan when he drafted seven defensive players. This young team was able to produce on the field, just not with a consistent rhythm.
For the first time in franchise history, and for just the fifth time in the Super Bowl era, four of the Carolina Panthers recorded 1,000 scrimmage yards.
Moore, Anderson, and Samuel became the first trio of wideouts in franchise history to put more than 1,000 scrimmage yards on the books in one season, and they were the first trio to do it league-wide since 2008. At that time it was Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, and Anquan Boldin while playing for the Arizona Cardinals. In addition, Moore and Anderson recorded a combined 2,289 receiving yards which was the second most among wide receiver duos in a season in franchise history.
Moore posted his second consecutive season with 1,000 receiving yards and is ranked 11th in the league with 1,193 receiving yards, which made him the fifth player to do so in franchise history in addition to the seventh in NFL history to have accomplished this at 23 years old or younger.
Samuel recorded a career-high 851 receiving yards and ranked second among NFL wide receivers with 200-plus rushing yards. He also leads the NFL with a 79.4 reception percentage, catching 77 of 87 targets. Anderson put his first 1,000-yard season on the books in 2020 with 95 receptions for 1,096 yards.
Bridgewater set a franchise record in his first year as the starting quarterback with a 69.1 percent completion rate. He also put five rushing touchdowns up in addition to 15 passing touchdowns. His first touchdown of the season came against the Cardinals and was also his first rushing touchdown since a horrific injury in 2015 while he played for the Minnesota Vikings.
As mentioned earlier, the defensive line also showed growth, especially considering half of the rookies regularly were in starting positions and lacked NFL experience.
Shaq Thompson put up his second consecutive season with more than 100 tackles (114) and became only the fifth Carolina Panthers player to have back to back 100 tackles seasons.
Brian Burns put up a career-high nine sacks and tied for fifth place ranking among defensive ends with three forced fumbles on the season.
Donte Jackson led the Panthers with three interceptions in 2020 and is in sixth place among Carolina cornerbacks with ten career interceptions.
What Went Wrong
For this young team, the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing adaptations to a “new normal” would prove to be quite problematic. Rhule said in a postseason interview the virtual offseason was disappointing and difficult and spring training was the first time he was able to meet his new team face to face. The first game felt like a scrimmage and described the season as “taking things as they come”. Rhule said he had grown as a coach. Learning to deal with obstacles and adaptations and his team did the same thing.
The Panthers had many new key players that built the core of the team, but with limited practice and no preseason, the team didn’t get the opportunity to get to work the kinks out and begin building a groove and a rhythm early on. The offense didn’t get to work with their new quarterback, which affected Bridgewater’s performance as well as his receivers and running backs. The defensive line, which mostly consisted of young and inexperienced players at the professional level, also suffered from not having the traditional offseason, training, and preseason.
There’s also no denying that Christian McCaffrey‘s absence almost the entire season left a huge void on the field. McCaffrey had an amazing 2019 season and there was anticipation 2020 would be even better, but injuries sidelined him and his team had to adapt and learn to get to the endzone without him on the field. Another example of the obstacles and adapting the Panthers had to overcome.
Team Award Winners
MVP – Mike Davis
When McCaffrey was injured during the Week 2 matchup against Tampa Bay and pretty much missed the rest of the season, Davis stepped up to plate and gave the Panthers’ offense the spark they needed.
Davis came to Carolina during the 2019 season and was listed as the backup running back on the Panthers’ depth roster until McCaffrey’s injury. Davis started in 12 of 16 games in the 2020 season.
In 2020 Davis recorded a career-high 642 rushing yards, 373 receiving yards, and eight total touchdowns. He also had 32 broken tackles for the season which garnered him a fifth-place ranking in the NFL.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Jeremy Chinn
Chinn led all NFL rookies with 116 tackles in his first season as a professional football player. As a result, he is the first Carolina player to win back-to-back Rookie of the Month awards.
He is also is the first rookie since 2000 with two defensive touchdowns, more than 100 tackles, and at least one forced fumble, a fumble recovery, sack, interception, and tackles for loss.
Biggest Surprise – Derrick Brown
Brown, the first rookie drafted in 2020 started in all but one game in his first season. Brown put eight tackles for loss in the records, ranking third among all rookies this season.
He also put 21 solo tackles on the books. Leading all rookie defensive tackles, and 12 quarterback hits with 2 sacks.
Biggest Disappointment – Christian McCaffrey
By far the biggest disappointment of the season was McCaffrey’s injuries resulting in him missing nearly the entire season. The 2019 season was a history-making season for McCaffrey and he signed a pretty hefty deal following his amazing year.
When McCaffrey was hurt in the second week of the season it was all too familiar a scenario from last year when Cam Newton ended up missing most of last season because of injuries. It felt like a punch in the gut to the offense. But one person doesn’t make a team and the rest of the players adapted to playing without him.
McCaffrey would play one more game, in Week 9, but a shoulder injury put him out for the rest of the season.
One Burning Question
How will the Team Handle the Offseason?
The Panthers hired a new general manager, Scott Fitterer on January 14. His first job is preparing for the draft. How much pull will he have in draft choices? Will Rhule make all of the calls when it comes to the draft? Obviously last year he was solely looking to pack his roster with defensive players. Will he do the same this year? Or, will he draft players to build the offensive line to give it more strength? A healthy mix of both would be ideal this year. If COVID-19 taught the NFL anything, it taught them to be prepared and the importance of a healthy and functional roster.
Follow Celeste Sabin on Twitter @CelesteSabin
Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images