Carolina Panthers

Win makes it harder to see the big picture

CHARLOTTE -- There's a reason Carolina Panthers fans were jubilant Sunday, at least for a moment.

It's the same reason they were storming the gates three weeks ago, ready to burn someone at the stake.

That's the danger of instant gratification -- it keeps you from seeing things as they are, instead just as they are right now. It's harder to look at the big picture, with all those pesky shades of gray blocking your view of the guillotine.

Sure, the Panthers put together their best-coached, best-played game of the season in beating Seattle. Not that it mattered, but they did.

But it doesn't mean that Matt Moore should have been starting two months ago, or that the coaches and front office are a bunch of morons for not realizing that sooner.

Just as it takes time to develop reasoned opinions, that holds for players, as well.

You can't make big decisions on guys in a game, a week or a month. And players can't get ready to perform in that time frame, either.

The Panthers didn't hold Moore back for 13 weeks because they didn't like him -- they held him back because they did.

Give the rookie credit for playing a clean game against a good defense. But give the staff credit for putting the training wheels on the playbook, and give the offensive line credit for keeping the flies off him, give the backs credit for 38 rushing attempts and the defense for a near-shutout.

Everything worked perfectly for the Panthers, the exact combination of things coach John Fox dreams of when he goes to sleep -- great defense, good special teams, enough offense to get you through the day.

It worked out perfectly for Moore, too. If anything, he threw too much, but still not enough to put himself in danger.

Danger would have been starting him earlier. Playing him in the middle of their five-game losing streak would have been borrowing trouble, with the upside not in proportion to the potential peril.

They found out nothing more than Moore could come in next year and compete with Brett Basanez for the number-three job, behind Jake Delhomme and a second guy to be determined.

But if they'd have played Moore six weeks ago, as some would suggest, they could have easily wrecked his body, his confidence and perhaps his career.

They could have turned him into David Carr.

Problem is, when things are going off the tracks, no one wants to look down the line.

Just as with Moore, if you stop and look, you see that there might actually be a plan in place.

The kids they've put together in recent years were the ones making plays.

That key defensive stop late? That was first-round pick Thomas Davis stripping the ball, which was scooped up by second-rounder Richard Marshall (who's now a starter and shouldn't leave the lineup until he leaves town). Combined with the emergence of Jon Beason as a future Pro Bowler, they have three good parts in their first three years. That's real potential, not the perceived threat they're alleged to have up front.

The big offensive play early? Moore, who they sheltered (imagine if he played at Tennessee), chucking it deep to fifth-round rookie Dante Rosario, who didn't have to do more than he was ready to before now. There's also Ryne Robinson, who showed promise in two phases, even though many wanted him labeled a bust because he isn't Devin Hester.

There are a number of young pieces in place that might be parts that help them contend next year, and the year after that. Yet, maybe it's a lot more gratifying, when the season's going haywire, to lock in on Eric Shelton and Bruce Nelson and Atiyyah Ellison and look for someone to blame or fire or tar and feather.

Yes, they've screwed up some draft picks. Hit some, too. It's the same way on the pro personnel side, where they can counter their worst mistake with stealing safety Chris Harris and his seven forced fumbles for a fifth-round pick in next year's draft. By the way, he's making $435,000 this year and $520,000 next year.

But for some reason, once Charlotte soured on the Panthers, it went all the way, fast.

This year went poorly, but it's as much of a mistake to call for a top-to-bottom house-cleaning as it is for the knee-jerk crowd to want to coronate Moore (Imagine what the reaction will be when he throws his first touchdown).

With a week between games, and only 16 of them, we dissect each individual unit to death, seldom allowing for a pattern to develop, much less a player.

And when verdicts are demanded on the hour, we don't get the chance to take a clean look at the whole of it, and understand there might actually be something happening beyond the obvious.

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