It was funny back when Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper likened Matt Rhule to himself in 2020. As he said in Rhule’s introductory press conference, they both used to be short-order cooks and they both dress alike. [insert explicit four-letter synonym for poop here].
How humble and endearing!
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Heck, it was even a little funny when Rhule compared his team’s rebuilding process to the rise of hip-hop icon Jay-Z last season. After all, Shawn Carter didn’t turn into a billionaire artist/producer/entrepreneur overnight, did he?
And you have to admit, it was at least unintentionally amusing at the time.
But who’s laughing now?
Sunday represented the lowest point of this Tepper and Rhule-led regime in Carolina. An uninspiring 19-16 loss to the New York Giants not only moved the Panthers to an 0-2 hole on the season, but also sent them to their ninth straight defeat—the longest active losing skid in the league.
After the game, we got more of the same from Rhule—who pulled out perhaps the saddest pitch of his car salesman schtick to date.
“I just wanna make sure I say that we’re close,” he said of yet another close defeat. “I believe that with all my heart. I think we’re so close. We’re comin’ down the stretch. But we haven’t found a way to get it done. And that’s my job to get over that last hump. It’s the hardest part.”
In one way or another, Rhule has been saying precisely this for three years. We’re now on the third season of “We’re close” and “We’re growing” and “Bear with us,” and what does the organization have to show for it?
Through 35 games under Rhule, the Panthers are now 10-25. And through 67 games under Tepper, who vowed not to accept mediocrity, they’re now 22-45. (To be fair, 22-45 is far worse than mediocre—so maybe he wasn’t lying.)
So, at what point do these Panthers officially become the laughing stock of the NFL? Well, how about now?
For starters, they’ve made a comedy of errors out of trying to find a franchise quarterback. They’re now on their third reclamation project under center in as many years.
They gave Teddy Bridgewater a guaranteed $33 million on a three-year deal. He didn’t work out after one season.
They traded away a second and a fourth-round pick for New York Jets castoff Sam Darnold. He didn’t work out after one season.
Now, they’ve taken in Baker Mayfield—albeit for a much lesser cost—and he isn’t working out yet. His first two games have seen an uncomfortable amount of inconsistencies throughout the entire offense. (Perhaps holding a faux quarterback competition and burning half of the summer’s first-team reps on your backup wasn’t the move.)
He’s now headlined losses to the Cleveland Browns, the team who dumped him off to Carolina, and the Giants, a team who is supposed to be two years old. behind the Panthers on the rebuilding timeline.
Well, how about their youngsters? Surely, they’ve built up a promising, deep young core behind Rhule—who has been heralded for his success with collegiate talent, right?
Eh. Almost 30 percent of the team’s draft picks from the past three years, including a long snapper, aren’t on the active roster.
His very first selection, defensive tackle Derrick Brown, has not proved worthy of his fifth-year option. The decision on that, which has been muddied by Brown’s largely silent career, is already coming up this spring.
And are we even sure about cornerback Jaycee Horn? Yes, he’s talented and he’s only had four and a half games to even prove himself. But with Patrick Surtain Jr. quickly becoming one of the league’s top one-on-one defenders, did the Panthers pass up on a potential franchise quarterback in Justin Fields or Mac Jones last year just to take the wrong cornerback?
Plus, even when they’ve seemingly nailed a pick, they can’t get the best out of them. They can’t find a stable spot for offensive lineman Brady Christensen (who has played four positions in two seasons), they can’t find a snap for wideout Terrace Marshall Jr. and they can’t find a way to get the utmost potential out of their ultra athletic safety Jeremy Chinn.
How about some good ol’ coach talk, then? Certainly this franchise is now being led in the right direction, especially after an extensive staff overhaul this offseason, correct?
Uh, maybe you can be the judge. Here’s what Rhule, offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo and defensive coordinator Phil Snow had to say last week, after the sloppy Week 1 loss to the Browns.
Highlighting an irrelevant stat, which was skewed by a 75-yard play, in a cherry-picked segment of the game. pic.twitter.com/CaIz4o9N7s
— Anthony Rizzuti (@Anthony_Rizzuti) September 15, 2022
Don’t worry about winning and losing. pic.twitter.com/Fzj4mJuHx9
— Anthony Rizzuti (@Anthony_Rizzuti) September 15, 2022
While their collective message is pretty clear—one of taking each play as it comes—it holds about zero merit given their overall product. How can you preach about patience and basics when you’re in Year No. 3 of this operation and your team is struggling with snapping the ball and finishing tackles? Where’s the urgency?
Then, in maybe the most depressing part of all, home isn’t even home anymore. Along with their 4-13 mark in Charlotte since 2020, Bank of America Stadium has seemingly become an amusement park for opposing fans.
If it weren’t for the visiting teams’ faithful taking over the building and cheering their guys on to victory, you could probably hear a mouse pee on a cotton ball in that place. (At least the Panthers will have a second home in Rock Hill, SC soon. Oh, wait.)
Luckily, however, there is a saving grace for Carolina—their irrelevancy in the grand scheme of the league. Because the one thing that may be keeping them from being the NFL’s undisputed laughing stock is that not enough football fans care that they even exist.
And that, from Jerry Richardson to David Tepper, is the recurring theme of how this franchise has been run. They’ve done almost nothing, in the past 30 or three years, to be taken seriously.
Maybe we’ll just have to wait another four years. . .