The Carolina Panthers talked about how fulfilling and close the team became as it overcame considerable questions for a bounce-back season in 2017.
The 11-5 regular-season record was good enough for a share of the NFC South title. Elimination from the playoffs came in the first postseason game when the New Orleans Saints topped the Panthers for the third time this season.
But change is in the air for the Panthers, perhaps beginning with the sale of the team. Jerry Richardson, the original owner of the franchise, says he will sell the team during the offseason. This comes amid December allegations of workplace misconduct lodged against Richardson.
Prior to the playoffs, head coach Ron Rivera was granted a contract extension that takes him through the 2020 season. He has been with the team for seven seasons. That is one form of stability, though two days after the playoff ouster, the team announced the dismissals of offensive coordinator Mike Shula and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey.
There is still the matter of Marty Hurney, who returned to the organization as interim general manager just days before the start of training camp. Hurney has said he wants to stay on the job but he was placed on leave Wednesday due to allegations of harassment from his former wife.
On the field, quarterback Cam Newton will look for a healthy offseason and certainly needs a replenished receiving corps. He was working back from spring shoulder surgery throughout training camp and into the early portion of the season. Having him in the groove from the get-go will be beneficial looking ahead to 2018.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Panthers had the defense to do the job and that enabled them to allow their offense to work up to speed across the first half of the season. The offseason addition of defensive end Julius Peppers, who began his career with the organization, proved to be an ideal fit. Linebacker Luke Kuechly showed his All-Pro form again and there was progress at times from second-year cornerbacks James Bradberry and Daryl Worley. Looks like the Panthers made a wise decision on keeping kicker Graham Gano, who produced his best season.
WHAT WENT WRONG: The Panthers were too often bogged down in the ground game and that impacted the offense as a whole. Take away a few games when they got rolling on the ground and there were some miniscule numbers that just didn't add up to what's needed with the ball-control offense that the Panthers like. Injuries were costly at the receiver position, particularly after the somewhat jarring midseason trade of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills. And of, course, the Panthers couldn't figure out how to defeat the New Orleans Saints, so that meant they started the playoffs on the road - in New Orleans. Half of the team's six losses came to the Saints.