The Panthers are 6-9 entering Sunday’s season finale at New Orleans, but one thing is certain — there’s plenty of optimism.
The team is buoyed by the thought of what sensational rookie quarterback Cam Newton might accomplish with a full off-season to work with coaches.
What’s more, 16 players are coming off injuries and the bulk of the roster is under contract.
“I don’t think there’s any question, everyone in this locker room is excited about next year,” tight end Greg Olsen said.
Coach Ron Rivera said he was talking with his coaches this week about how nice it would be if this were a 20-game season given the momentum the team has built the last month.
“If we had just had a few more weeks, who knows?” Rivera said. “I wish we had a few more just to see, just to see if we’ve reached that point where we’ve matured enough.”
Newton, a leading candidate for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year with 34 total touchdowns and a first alternate for the Pro Bowl, said he “absolutely” wishes the Panthers could keep playing.
He sees a completely different team now from the one earlier in the season. That one was tiptoeing toward an uncertain future; this one is surging, ready to bust up anything in its way.
“It’s evident on film,” Newton said. “But we can’t get that back. You can’t press rewind in life and you sure can’t press fast-forward, so you’ve got to live for the present. I think going into next year we have to focus on what we can control.
“We have to learn from it. There are going to be mistakes made and things we had back, but we had ample opportunities that we could have bounced back from to make a bigger difference.”
The Panthers enter the Saints game ranked fourth in total offense and third in rushing, a dramatic turnaround from last season when the Panthers were last in the league in total offense.