It had been a long time since the Carolina Panthers lost a game at Bank of America Stadium. The home crowd and intensity helped the Panthers win a lot of matchups there, but not on Sunday against the visiting Minnesota Vikings.
Carolina led 10-0 early on but took a 10-8 lead into the break despite allowing only 34 yards defensively. Fifth-year linebacker Luke Kuechly did everything in his power, per usual, to find his way around the ball and make a play.
Kuechly finished with a team-best 13 tackles (9 solo), one tackle for a loss, one pass breakup and a quarterback hit. The Panthers failed to force a turnover, which really hurt their chances with quarterback Sam Bradford moving the ball efficiently for most of the second half.
Through three outings, Kuechly has totaled 34 tackles (23 solo), two pass breakups and an interception. Sunday marked his highest mark in total tackles as he continues to bring down guys all by himself. His pursuit to the ball and ability to tackle on his own is highly impressive.
At 25, there isn’t much that can slow him down. He has put up monster numbers since entering the league in 2012 and in a defense that suits him perfectly, it’s hard to see that stopping anytime soon. He’s the top middle linebacker in the NFL, but he can’t do it all each and every week.
The Panthers need to find ways to create turnovers from other players.
Carolina has home games against Tampa Bay and Arizona next month with road meetings with Atlanta, New Orleans and Los Angeles on the horizon. Either way, the Panthers are bummed by the home loss that puts them at 1-2 to open the new season.
“We know a lot of people are coming after us and a lot of people want that spot,” defensive tackle Kawann Short told Panthers.com. “We hold ourselves to a high standard in this locker room. You see that guys want to win and want to do better, but it all comes from within this organization.
“It’s a sad feeling – a terrible feeling – to get this loss in front of the home crowd. We didn’t finish the job. We were on the gas and we let up. As a team that wants to be the best, you have to finish.”
The Panthers now find themselves in a strange spot. If New Orleans wins on Monday night, all four NFC South teams will be tied at 1-2.
The Panthers still are a very strong squad. The blowout win over San Francisco doesn’t look that impressive, but they fell to two playoff contenders in Denver and Minnesota.
Kuechly is the heart and soul of the defense and that’s where this team makes it money. Let’s see if they can bounce back next week when they travel to take on Atlanta, their lone regular season loss from a year ago.
Carolina has a lot of time to improve, but there are a couple spots on defense where the team needs to improve. Mainly, the Panthers can’t rely on Kuechly to do everything.