Over the last two years, the Carolina Panthers have had extremely different yet oddly similar seasons. In 2013, they went 12-4, won the division and fell one game shy of the NFC Championship, and in 2014, they went 7-8-1, won the division and fell one game shy of the NFC Championship.
Which season was more gratifying?
“I think it’s an interesting topic,” Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said on Tiki and Tierney. “In 2013, it was fun. It was easy. I felt like every game we played, things went our way. We won. We had an eight-game win streak at one point. It went like clockwork. It went how you planned. This year, (when we were) 3-8-1, it just seemed like nothing could go worse. And then all of a sudden, the light switch.”
The Panthers closed the season with four straight wins – including 31-point blowouts at New Orleans and at Atlanta – to win the NFC South.
“It was satisfying knowing that everyone in the world counted us out,” said Olsen, who led Carolina in receptions (84) and receiving yards (1,008) this season. “Guys in the locker room continued to believe that we had a chance, and things bounced our way. We got a couple breaks here and there with other teams losing and whatnot, but we handled our business. Three of the final four (games) were division games, so we took care of business. It was unconventional. It wasn’t how we dreamed it up. But we made it. We made it the second round, and we’re a couple mistakes away from pulling one out up in Seattle, so it was a good year.”
Yes, it was, but what do we make of Cam Newton? His passing numbers have decreased in each of his four seasons in the NFL, and his rushing totals have decreased in each of the last three. Granted, he missed two games this year, but how should we assess the 25-year-old at this point in his career?
“I think he’s made unbelievable strides,” Olsen said. “His rookie year, those stats were really gaudy. And I think even though his stats may not be necessarily at that level this year, I think he’s head and shoulders better (with) his control of the game. Obviously his athletic ability gets a lot of the talk, but I think just his understanding, his control of the offense, him being able to run the game and be a quarterback – and not just a highlight reel – is the reason why we’ve had success over the last couple years.”
Indeed, at 6-5, 245, Newton is quite the physical specimen. He can throw the ball a mile and leap over defenders into the end zone. But how is Newton as a teammate? How is he in the locker room? Do guys legitimately like him?
“He’s been a great teammate since he came (into the league),” Olsen said. “And I think a lot of the scrutiny that he was under when he first got here was out of his control. He kind of flashed on the scene the year before with the Heisman Trophy, going undefeated and (the) next thing you know he was a household name . . . with a team (Auburn) that was’t really good the year before or after.
“I think he got a lot of scrutiny and a lot of pressure being the No. 1 overall pick, coming to a team with only two wins, a new coaching staff – all those things combined. People wanted to pick him apart. They wanted to see if this guy was for real, and I think he’s done nothing but deliver.”