The past seven months, in many regards, have served as a purifying wave for the Carolina Panthers: Something to wash away the despair and frustration of the 2018 season, and instead replace it with hope and optimism for what the 2019 season will bring. But relative to other years, the week before training camp brought one last moment of catharsis for the Panthers: The release of NFL Films’ All or Nothing documenting the 2018 Panthers, and a reminder of the lessons it presented.
“The season’s short,” said linebacker Luke Kuechly on Wednesday. “You can’t let one loss snowball into two, three, four – whatever it ended up being.”
With Week One of the 2019 season fast approaching, the Panthers are reaching the point where they will, at long last, be able to put the seven-game losing streak that destroyed their high hopes for the 2018 season behind them. But although the Panthers’ abject and epic collapse from 6-2 and knocking on the door of the No. 1 seed to 7-9 by season’s end is now in the past, the memories of it still smart, and are influencing the team as they report to Wofford College.
“We just use it as motivation,” said linebacker Shaq Thompson. “We had a little bad stretch that didn’t work out for us, but I think everybody just from watching what we went through, and just the feeling of that, everyone is gonna use that as motivation and fire and energy just to make this season even better. Because we know that feeling, and we didn’t like the feeling. Just as a team as a whole.”
Though the Panthers aren’t forgetting what happened to them last season, it isn’t as though they are dwelling on the cataclysmic sequence of games that completely turned their fortunes for the worse. Reflecting on 2018, Thompson noted the positive of the fact that the Panthers stuck together down the stretch as opposed to getting down on themselves or turning against each other. Meanwhile, Kuechly noted that as professionals, the Panthers understand that they are no longer defined by their record from the previous season.
“Every year it’s a wash. Every year you’ve got to come in, it’s a new team, it’s new players, it’s a new season,” said Kuechly. “That’s kind of the thing that I think everyone understands. Young guys, old guys, guys have been around before and understand that no matter how good the season was, no matter how bad the season was the year before, it’s always a new season, new players, new opportunities. So guys are focused on what we’ve had this year.
“I think the refocusing part and kind of understanding that it’s a new team starts in the offseason program. And I think we’ve kind of cleared that hurdle – hopefully.”
In many regards, the lessons of the 2018 season as outlined by Kuechly – that every play matters and that the Panthers can’t let one thing lead to another – were necessary ones. And as Carolina seeks to move forward and claim the NFC South title for the first time since their Super Bowl season of 2015, they aren’t going to forget them anytime soon.
“It’s a whole ‘nother season. But you’re never gonna forget how you did last season,” said Thompson. “Especially like I said, the back stretch that we had and the games that we lost continuously. I mean, we’re not gonna forget about that. But we’ll always improve on it.”