He gave Panthers fans hope, if only for a minute. After a turbulent final month of 2020, Teddy Bridgewater no longer represents stability for a franchise suddenly in search of accelerated success.
By: John Ellis – @OnePantherPlace
Months into his first crack at any type of NFL job since 2012, the newly-minted coach of the Carolina Panthers held court, selling anyone within earshot on the value of first-round pick turned journeyman Teddy Bridgewater. All of this on the heels of Rhule’s decision, in collaboration with former GM Marty Hurney (and presumably owner David Tepper), to release 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton, who was given permission to seek a trade in March–a trade he reportedly never wanted, and a request he reportedly never made.
"I believe in his arm strength...I believe in his decision-making."
Panthers head coach Matt Rhule. May 29, 2020.
Newton, in the middle of rehabbing his Lisfranc injury from early 2019, was apoplectic–as was much of the Panthers fanbase. Many viewed it as a needlessly premature conclusion to a largely memorable decade of performances by the first overall pick from the 2011 NFL Draft.
Perhaps in an effort to both appease fans while offering his new quarterback some degree of reassurance, Rhule spoke glowingly of Bridgewater’s game, speaking in almost hyperbolic terms, at times.
“The best players in the world bring out the best in their teammates,” Rhule said in a May 2020 interview on “Around the NFL”. “(Bridgewater) brings out the best in the people.”
Rhule, to Panthers team reporter Kristen Balboni in early April: “Teddy’s a guy who has won at every level he’s been at. Goes to New Orleans…wins again.”
A coach citing “QB WINZ” as a positive trait for a player feels a bit disingenuous, particularly in the case of Bridgewater, whose 5-0 record with the 2019 Saints was somewhat aided by superb coaching, a great defense, a strong running game and good weapons.
Rhule also underscored Bridgewater’s familiarity with new OC Joe Brady–and all that it entailed.
“When you watch him on tape, you see him execute the plays we’re going to run,” said Rhule
Emphasis on “PLAYS WE’RE GOING TO RUN”.
Clearly, Rhule and the Panthers brass had a sky-high expectation that Bridgewater, who played in New Orleans as Brady served on Sean Payton’s staff in 2018, would master Brady’s schematics, verbiage and general style of play.
There were flashes of excellence from Rhule’s dream duo early on: Teddy racked up 636 passing yards in his first pair of starts. On opening day, Bridgewater rallied Carolina from an 11-point deficit, passing for 116 of his 269 yards after the 3:00 mark of the third quarter–including a 75-yard double move touchdown by free agency steal Robby Anderson.
Trailing 34-30, with his quarterback fresh off a pair of impressive touchdown drives, Brady took the ball out of Bridgewater’s hands. Carolina opened the drive with a 15-yard “drive starter” run by Christian McCaffrey. This is not an uncommon strategy on late-game comeback drives.
Curiously, from their own 45-yard-line, with 3:22 left in regulation, the Panthers didn’t throw a single pass.
Four runs–a trio of 3-yard McCaffrey grinds, capped off by a predictable FB dive.
To be clear, Carolina needed 10 yards for a new set of downs at the 3:22 mark. Hovering around mid-field, the Panthers, possibly aiming for a touchdown while leaving limited time for Las Vegas to mount a final drive, drained 1:59 from the game clock before failing to convert on a 4th and 1 to extend the game.
All the more perplexing is the fact that Las Vegas was in “single high” on each of these four runs. Brady had a golden opportinuty to exploit Cover 1 coverage with Anderson, DJ Moore, or any number of options. This would have been the ideal time to take a shot, or at the very least, mix in at least one intermediate pass.
Does that feel like trust?
A 119-second sequence of late-game diffidence served as a precursor to a series of situational gaffes from Brady’s otherwise prolific offensive attack. Carolina lost this game, and finished the season with a dreadful 2-8 record in one-possession games. With Bridgewater at the helm, the Panthers were 0-8 when faced with this combination of situational elements:
- Offense on the field.
- Less than 3:00 to play.
- Trailing by one possession.
Now, in the interest of fairness, Carolina’s young defense (as expected) was horrible for much of season on 3rd down. The Panthers offense rarely benefited from a key takeaway, or a positive flip in field position.
|Game||Punts forced||final score|
|Week 7: @ Saints||0||L, 27-24|
|Week 8: v Falcons||1||L, 25-17|
|Week 9: @ Chiefs||1||L, 33-31|
|Week 10: v Bucs||0||L, 46-23|
During this four-game losing skid, Phil Snow’s defense forced 2 punts in 16 quarters. The Panthers lost 3 of those 4 games by one possession. To Bridgewater’s credit, he played some solid football during this stretch.
In fact, his two best games of the year (at New Orleans, at Kansas City) featured just one (1) punt from the two opponents combined.
The red zone offense sucked. Plain and simple.
Carolina ranked 28th in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on barely half (50.9%) of their 57 trips inside the 20. Over their final seven games, Carolina was 11-of-27 in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on a miserable 40.7% rate. They finished 2-5 down the stretch, and three of those losses were one-possession games.
Bridgewater suffered a knee injury in the first of those seven games, a 46-23 home loss to Tampa. Since then, his production took a nose dive.
Situationally, Bridgewater made a mess of things in critical situations down the final stretch of the season. Prime example: the Minnesota game. Leading 24-21 with 1:56 to play, Brady opted for a passing play. The risk? Minnesota was out of time outs, and a run would have drained :35 extra seconds. The reward? If your QB makes a simple throw, your lead is then insurmountable.
Brady put the ball in Teddy’s hands, with the game on the line, and this is what happened:
The following week, Teddy led Carolina back from a deficit against Denver with three scoring drives in the 4th quarter. Bridgewater made several big throws down the stretch.
In crunch time, inside of 2:00, Bridgewater again failed to execute, with some degree of confusion as to why a play was rushed prior to the two minute warning–essentially a wasted play with Teddy throwing it out of bounds.
On 4th down, more of the same. Underneath the sticks, and behind Samuel on the shallow crosser. Teddy does a ton of good things between the 20’s. Crunch time just isn’t his deal.
The following week in Green Bay, more red zone issues. This time, Bridgewater tries to take it over the top, reportedly against the wishes of his coach.
Bridgewater’s final 3 games of 2020:
- 1 passing TD
- 1 rush TD
- 5 turnovers
- 61% completions
Teddy Bridgewater did some nice things in 2020. No question, his knee was an issue post-Tampa. One year ago, Matt Rhule “loved his decison making” and raved about how much of a “winner” Teddy was.
Today, that same player–always overhyped by his coach, to no fault of his own–is reportedly being shopped by the same man who, less than a year ago, proclaimed: “I believe” in Teddy.
Personally, I knew what Carolina was getting with Teddy. The tape never lies.
Coaches? Half-truths are a universal language.