Sunday was a true test of the resolve of the Carolina Panthers coaching staff. A first half onslaught resulted in 35 points for the home team while the defense held the league’s highest grossing offense to just 14. A 21 point halftime lead is typically insurmountable Stitched James Bradberry Jersey , and the by-the-book approach is often to play it safe and try to grind out the final 30 minutes of the game. It’s what we’ve come to expect out of the Panthers, and it typically results in floundered leads and heart wrenching finishes. Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers almost went that route, but it wasn’t by design, as is often the case. The Panthers went three and out on their first two drives of the second half, but neither of those drives were of the run-run-run-punt variety. The Panthers attempted to attack the Buccaneers vulnerable secondary through the air. Unfortunately the offensive line couldn’t hold up and gave up back breaking sacks on both drives. On the Panthers third drive of the second half, they reached Buccaneers territory and were eventually faced with a 4th and inches situation. They attempted a sneak, but the play was called back due to a Carolina penalty. Faced with 4th and 5 late in the third quarter, it would have been easy for Ron Rivera to punt and hope that his team could slow down the now surging Buccaneers offense. Instead, he showed the trust he has in this team. He let the offense try to pick up the five yards. They didn’t Youth Vernon Butler Jersey , but the message was loud and clear. On the other side of the ball, the Buccaneers were able to get into a rhythm and starting churning out yards and reaching pay dirt, but it wasn’t because of ‘prevent defense.’ While there were instances of soft coverage during Sunday’s game, for the most part defensive coordinator Eric Washington was willing to let his players make plays. He called blitzes and had his corners playing press coverage at different times throughout the half. That aggressiveness eventually helped get the Panthers defense off the field late in the fourth quarter with the Buccaneers driving. A sudden rush towards the line of scrimmage by the Panthers linebackers made the Buccaneers offensive line flinch before the snap, prompting a false start penalty and pushing the offense back to a 3rd and 12 that they couldn’t convert. After the ensuing change of possession, the Panthers offense took the field with 4:52 remaining and a two touchdown lead. Past trends would suggest that this drive would go run, run, run, punt. Actuality would say that the Panthers would come out in the shotgun and attempt to pick up the first down through the air. A Christian McCaffrey run on first down was followed by a completion to Greg Olsen and a pass attempt to D.J. Moore that fell incomplete. The Panthers tried to put the game away right then and there. It didn’t work Stitched Vernon Butler Jersey , but it gave the Panthers a better chance at success than three straight runs would have.Ron Rivera and the rest of the coaching staff are starting to empower their players, and the players are responding with energized performances. Over the last three weeks, the offense is fifth in the league in yards per play and the defense is tenth in yards per play allowed despite playing some high powered offenses. Making bold decisions instills confidence in a team, and recent bold decisions by the Panthers coaching staff have coincided with the Panthers playing with a swagger reminiscent of 2015’s magical season. The Carolina Panthers have impressed down the stretch of the 2018 season at staying right in the mix of the NFC Wild Card picture. It is impressive, mind you, because all of the contenders are hovering around .500 records and all it would have taken was two wins over the last five games to virtually seal a ticket to the post season. Instead, the Panthers have managed to lose ground in the running without completely falling out of the race. This says more about the general competence of the NFC this year than it does about the Panthers.Tonight is the last game of Week 15. There will be two games left on everybody’s schedule come tomorrow and a universally expected loss to the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football won’t technically eliminate the Panthers from contention. Fivethirtyeight is forecasting a 5% chance that the Panthers make the playoffs after this weekend’s slate of games was factored in. I personally think that is generous, but weirder things have happened.The Panthers are trailing the Seattle Seahawks, the Minnesota Vikings Youth Taylor Moton Jersey , the Philadelphia Eagles, the Dallas Cowboys, and Washington. One of those three NFC East teams has to, by rule, win their division. That leaves four teams in the wild card race with a better record than Carolina. Only the Seahawks have a two game lead, plus the tie breaker on the Panthers. Washington also owns a tie breaker over the Panthers.If Seattle and Washington finish the season at 9-7 —the best possible record the Panthers could obtain— then they would each edge out the Panthers. That makes our rooting interests for these next two weeks easy as far as they are concerned. They both need to lose at least one game and preferably both.The Cowboys, at 8-6 presently, are in the best position to win their division. We can largely ignore them. If they end at 9-7 or 8-8 and somehow lose control of the NFC East then any tie in the records between Carolina and Dallas would default to the Panthers, courtesy of their season opening win. That leaves the Eagles and the Vikings. The Vikings currently stand a game and a half ahead of the Panthers. Their remaining opponents are the Lions Stitched Taylor Moton Jersey , who the Panthers couldn’t beat, and the Bears, who are actually good. They are the real threat. One more win by the Vikings puts the playoffs essentially out of reach for Carolina.The Eagles are facing the Texans and Washington. Since the Panthers have beaten Philadelphia this year and we are already rooting for Washington to lose out, we don’t ultimately care what they do yet. The Panthers get in over Philly in the event of a tie and they currently stand with as many losses as the Panthers have.It is safe to assume that the Panthers are going to lose at least one of their next three games. The Falcon’s offense is still dangerous at times and the Saints are simply better than the Panthers in all three phases of the game. If the Panthers lose two games then they are out regardless of what other teams do. They still have a narrow chance of making it if they only lose one game. That means, no matter what happens tonight —no matter how many scores they lose by— the Panthers will still have a shot at the playoffs tomorrow morning. Nobody in the NFC has more than a two game lead and there will still be two games remaining.
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