The Carolina Panthers suffered a 22-6 clobbering at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
It was an utterly pitiful performance – but not one we shouldn't have seen coming.
After four games in 2013, the Panthers stand at 1-3.
The Panthers lost after the bye week in 2011 (30-3 to Tennessee) and 2012 (19-14 to Dallas), struggling offensively in both games.
Sunday's game at University of Phoenix Stadium followed the bye – and the Panthers lost again.
While fans continue hoping with blind optimism that the team finally turns the corner in 2013, the sad reality is this: The Panthers have simply not progressed over the last three seasons.
While Rivera and his staff – particularly offensive coordinator Mike Shula – have taken plenty of heat for the team's slow start, the players deserve plenty of blame for Sunday's embarrassing loss to Arizona.
Receivers Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell both took potential scores off the board by dropping critical passes. Smith dropped a certain touchdown on third and goal during Carolina's first drive of the game, forcing the team to settle for a 22-yard Graham Gano field goal. In the middle of the second quarter, LaFell dropped a pass on fourth and one that would have given the Panthers a first down inside the Arizona 10-yard line.
Additionally, Cam Newton played an atrocious second half. He made many of the same mistakes as a third-year quarterback that he made as a rookie. He lost four turnovers (three interceptions, one fumble), three of which came in Arizona territory.
Newton was sacked a career-high seven times as he struggled to make plays in the face of constant pressure. He exacerbated poor offensive line play by holding onto the ball too long and forcing ill-advised throws in the red zone.
Not to mention, the offensive scheme was ineffective, particularly in the second half when Newton was consistently under duress. Mike Shula failed to counteract blitzes with hot routes, smoke screens and quick passes.
However, the defense, which has proven to be playoff caliber, played very well. The stout group held Arizona to just 250 yards of total offense while Robert Lester, Mike Mitchell and Luke Kuechly each intercepted Carson Palmer.
Despite outgaining the Cardinals by more than 100 yards, the Panthers mustered only six points in a 16-point defeat.
Ron Rivera's team made too many mistakes, left too many points on the board and consistently came up short during critical moments of the game.
This has been the modus operandi of the Panthers since 2011.
Nothing has changed since then, and it's unlikely anything will until significant organizational changes are made.
The Panthers travel to the Metrdome to take on the 1-3 Minnesota Vikings in Week 6.
Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m.
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