Wrapping up Carolina Panthers 2021-22: From 3-0 to a disappointing 5-12

By Richard Walker

The Carolina Panthers 2021-22 season started fast but ended in disappointment.

Matt Rhule

After starting 3-0 with new quarterback Sam Darnold, the Panthers lost 12 of their last 14 games and will enter the offseason with more questions than answers.

What’s next for a franchise that will enter next season looking to snap a seven-game overall losing streak, a six-game home losing streak and have its head coach clearly on the hot seat?

The subject of criticism late in the season, head coach Matt Rhule’s future was the source of a report last weekend that he would be returning for a third season even after Sunday’s 41-17 loss at Tampa Bay left him with a 10-23 overall record in his two years as head coach.

But the fact that his status was the source of so much reporting – both nationally and locally – would likely mean Rhule’s tenure won’t last much longer if the Panthers don’t turn their recent fortunes around quickly.

Hired to a seven-year, $62 million contract in January 2019 as the first new head coach for owner David Tepper, when Rhule was head coach at Temple and Baylor, each of those teams made significant improvements in their third seasons.

That will be expected next season.

Rhule said his goals are the highest they could be during Monday’s season-ending news conference.

“I want to build a Super Bowl champion,” Rhule said. “(General manager) Scott (Fitterer) wants to build a Super Bowl champion and there’s no quick fix to that. We’re going to be methodical about everything we do and say what’s in the best interest of the Panthers.”

When the season started, many felt the Panthers’ offensive line could be a problem. With 12 starting lineups in 17 games, it was – and then some – as Carolina yielded 52 sacks and ranked only 29th in the 32-team league in passing yards per game (190.5).

Unfortunately, that wasn’t only statistic that saw Carolina ranked near the bottom of the NFL; The Panthers were 18th in rushing yards allowed (113.8), 20th in rushing yards (108.4), 21st in points allowed (23.8), 29th in scoring (17.9) and 30th in total offense (298.9).

The only top rankings for Carolina were total defense (305.9 for 2nd) and passing defense (192.1 for 4th).

Also, the Panthers were the only NFL team that didn’t allow a touchdown on their opponents’ first possession while managing five touchdowns and four field goals on their initial drives of the games.

Unfortunately, the team couldn’t maintain their strong starts – a problem many of Rhule’s critics would direct toward him and his staff’s coaching.

Carolina’s offense averaged less rushing and passing yards in the second half than the first; The Panthers picked up 62.2 yards per game rushing in the first half and 46.2 in the second half and averaged 101.1 yards per game passing in the first half and 88.6 in the second half.

Rhule fired his offensive coordinator, Joe Brady, after 12 games this season.

Having three starting quarterbacks for the third time in four years didn’t help, nor did losing Christian McCaffrey to injury for 10 of the 17 games.

Here are some other notes on the Panthers’ 2021-22 season:

… Team offensive leaders were Chuba Hubbard (612 yards rushing), Darnold (2,525 yards passing) and D.J. Moore (97 catches for 1,157 yards).

… Carolina will select No. 6 overall next season.

… The Panthers had their fourth straight losing record against the NFC South. It was their sixth straight losing record against the division and 11th all-time in 27 seasons.

… Darnold now has 10,624 yards passing with 54 touchdowns and 52 touchdowns in his 50 game career (17-32 record in 49 starts).

… Carolina failed to have a 300-yard passing game for only the second time in its 27-year history; The other year, 2008, came when the Panthers won the NFC South.

… Want a key number that determines success or failure for the Panthers? It’s 30 carries. In games when Carolina has 30 or more carries, it is 155-30-1 all time. In games with less than 30 carries, it is 59-204.

… Carolina finished the season with 104 penalties – 48 on offense, 34 on defense and 22 on special teams. Offensive guard Dennis Daley led the team in penalties with seven.

… The Panthers are now 205-227-1 all-time in the regular season and 9-8 in the playoffs with 17 losing records, seven winning records and three .500 records.

… Carolina’s 5-12 overall record was its fourth-worst in team history. The previous three worst records resulted in the head coach getting first – 1-15 with George Seifert in 2001, 2-14 with John Fox in 2010 and 4-12 with Dom Capers in 1998.