Mike Tyson famously said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
The 2023 Carolina Panthers have already taken that punch at this point, and they are staggering a little.
The Panthers lost their first two games and now have lost their starting quarterback, rookie Bryce Young, for Sunday’s contest at Seattle due to an ankle injury. Veteran Andy Dalton will start at QB instead against the Seahawks (4:05 p.m. kickoff on CBS).
No, it isn’t ideal.
Ruled out for Sunday in Seattle, Young also is questionable for the Oct. 1 home game vs. Minnesota, Panthers coach Frank Reich said Friday. And durability is one of the two main things people worried about with Young entering the NFL, along with his height. Young only missed one game in three years at Alabama due to injury, but the No. 1 overall draft pick is only 5-foot-10 and listed (perhaps generously) at 204 pounds. NFL defenders are much bigger and faster than the ones in college were and Young is no longer playing on a team that’s going to out-talent 90% of the opposition.
So missing Week 3 of Year 1 of his NFL career?
It’s not a great look.
The Panthers’ original plan in 2023 was for Young to start all 17 games, no matter the result, because you get better quicker that way. That’s why they started him in Week 1 and why they’re saying now that it’s Young’s job whenever his ankle is better.
“This is Bryce’s thing,” as Dalton said earlier this week, putting to rest any notion that if he threw for 400 yards in a win against Seattle that there would be a quarterback controversy.
As for Carolina general manager Scott Fitterer’s contention on Aug. 31 that “our goal is to win the NFC South” — well, that seems very far away with the other three teams in the division 2-0 and Carolina already 0-2.
At least Panthers aren’t the Bears
In the short term, things look kind of lousy. Not as lousy as it looks if you’re a Chicago Bears fan — where the embattled franchise quarterback complained this week that he’s being over-coached and the defensive coordinator suddenly resigned.
So let’s keep some perspective here. But still — this feels bad to Carolina fans, and familiar, too, given that the Panthers have had five straight losing seasons and are showing major signs of heading toward a sixth.
There’s a 2023 Carolina Panthers 2.0 that will emerge, perhaps Sunday. And after that, they’ll be a 3.0 version, too, because that’s how a four-month NFL season goes. As with so many jobs, the ability to adjust on the fly is essential in the NFL. The Panthers have 88.2% of the season left to play, after all.
But let’s also be real. Even if the Panthers pull a few upsets here and there —and they will, maybe even starting in Seattle where the Seahawks (1-1) have one of the NFL’s worst defenses — they have little chance at making the playoffs this season. Their offensive line and wide receivers aren’t good enough. One of their best leaders, linebacker Shaq Thompson, is already out for the season and their best cornerback (Jaycee Horn) is hurt yet again.
What the Panthers are really trying to do — with a new QB, new coaching staff and roster that has turned over almost half its spots from last season — is build for a brighter future in 2024 and beyond.
And that door, at least, is still open.
If you’re thinking from the tone of this column that I’m completely down on Young, I’m not. He’s just ... well ... young. You’ve got to give him at least a dozen games as a starter to really know what you’ve got.
Dalton: ‘I know what I’m capable of’
It does show some planning for a rainy day that the team signed Dalton in March. He’s started 162 games in his career for four different teams, going 83-77-2 and making the Pro Bowl three times.
Dalton entered the league the same year as Cam Newton, in 2011. And, while not as spectacular as Newton, Dalton, 35, has lasted longer. He’s done most everything in the league short of winning a playoff game, and he brushed off a question Thursday about whether this upcoming game as the starter is a chance to prove he can still play.
“I’ve played everywhere I’ve been,” Dalton said Thursday, “and I’ve had a significant amount of playing time everywhere. I had the nine years in Cincinnati. When Dak (Prescott) got hurt (in Dallas in 2020), I got to play a majority of that season as well. Even in Chicago (in 2021), I had some, and then last year, too (when Dalton started 14 games in New Orleans in 2022, going 6-8). So I wouldn’t say it’s a validation. I’m not trying to convince anybody with what I can do. ... I know what I’m capable of.”
Dalton may well be better equipped than Young to handle the legendary noise at the Seahawks’ home field, having dealt with it before in his career. For Young, who is planning to travel with the team even though he’s been ruled out, Seattle will have to be a learning experience. He just won’t be learning quite as fast.
Bottom line: It’s not all over, Panthers fans, not even for 2023. Far from it. But this is going to be a bumpy ride. Best to hang on, and just think of it as a roller coaster instead of a road filled with potholes. You’ll enjoy it more.