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What went wrong? How Panthers’ 1-10 struggles led to Frank Reich’s firing

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Why did the Panthers fail so completely in 11 games under Frank Reich?

Carolina looked poised to take a step forward in 2023, with an experienced head coach, an all-star staff, an easy division and a veteran roster built around the kind of promising quarterback you overpay to advance and draft with the No. 1 overall pick. .

The only thing that went according to plan was how bad the NFC South was, and the Panthers still found a way to stay at the bottom.

Now that Carolina has moved on from Reich — special teams coordinator Chris Tabor will serve as interim head coach — all that’s left to do is unearth a team with a 1-10 record and no first-round draft picks to show for it. april.

“It’s a heartbreaking disappointment that we didn’t achieve the goals that we needed to achieve to continue and try to turn things around,” Reich told the Charlotte Observer Monday after his firing. “It makes me feel bad for the guys, the team, the coaches and the fans.”

There’s a lot more to Carolina’s struggles than picking the wrong quarterback with the first pick in April, but second overall pick CJ Stroud has been electric for Houston, even an MVP candidate, and no rookie didn’t get a vote for the Associated Press MVP. since Dan Marino in 1984. Bryce Young, who went 23-4 as a starter at Alabama, experienced little in Carolina other than deficits on the way to defeats. The Panthers have led in just 18.2% of their games this season, and only 13.6% in the second half.

Arguably the most important part of this season has been developing Young, and it’s hard to see much of that. He has nine touchdown passes in 11 games, and all of them ended in losses, six of them when they led by at least two scores. In terms of moments he’ll remember positively, he has the game-winning drive to beat the Texans in Week 8 — 5 of 6 for 50 clutch yards — and very little else.

Statistically, Carolina is bad at everything. The Panthers are 30th in total offense, 29th in scoring offense, 29th in rushing offense and 30th in passing offense. Defensively, they are 30th in points allowed, 31st in the red zone and dead last with seven putouts all season, setting the third-worst turnover margin in the league.

To be fair, injuries have hit Carolina hard, especially on defense. Linebacker Shaq Thompson played just 69 snaps before going on injured reserve, safety Jeremy Chinn had 195 and cornerback Jaycee Horn played 20 all season. The offensive line, a source of confidence with the ground game last season, barely had its starting guards all season, with Brady Christensen out all year and Austin Corbett only playing in four games.

Many ambitious free agent additions to the team have also disappointed. Miles Sanders, a Pro Bowl selection who rushed for 1,269 yards for a Super Bowl team last year, is averaging 3.1 yards per carry, with just one touchdown. Veteran receiver Adam Thielen, who already has 100 targets, is averaging a career-low 9.5 yards per catch with just four touchdowns. Safety Vonn Bell, who threw four interceptions for the Bengals last year, has just one, with just two passes defended all season.

Even returning stalwarts have struggled. Brian Burns, a Pro Bowl player the last two seasons with a total of 21.5 sacks, has only six, and Carolina, having turned down lucrative trade offers last year, will have to overpay to avoid losing him in free agency this spring.

What’s next for Bryce Young, the Panthers and Frank Reich?

What's next for Bryce Young, the Panthers and Frank Reich?

The Panthers totaled a total never close to the sum of their parts, a collection of talents and coaching wisdom that never came together. Reich’s desperate about-face in handing the offensive game over to offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, then taking it back two weeks ago, only served to show that it didn’t matter who was in charge. Carolina has seen a remarkably consistent regression on the scoreboard – their point totals over the last seven games are 24, 21, 15, 13, 13, 10 and 10 points.

As a franchise, Carolina has been here before. Owner David Tepper has fired coaches three times this season since purchasing the team in 2018. What has persisted through it all is a reliable losing record. The Panthers have suffered double-digit losses five years in a row now, after totaling just five in their first 24 seasons before Tepper purchased the team.

Reich’s firing seems to have been happening for weeks, and yet Tepper’s impatience is almost unprecedented. The last time a head coach was fired this early in his tenure was 1978, when the 49ers fired Pete McCulley after a 1-8 start. The glass half full is that this allowed San Francisco to hire Bill Walsh and draft Joe Montana the following year.

Whoever accepts the Panthers coaching job will do so by accepting the challenge of making Young a franchise quarterback, without the help of a high draft pick and with an overall lack of talent on offense. That, coupled with the quick hook threat that Tepper has shown, could make Carolina one of the least desirable openings this spring in what could be a long list.

Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers And Saints. He’s in his 10th season and covers the Bucs and NFL full-time, having previously spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.


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