These are dark days for the defending NFC champions.
A year removed from 15 regular-season wins and a trip to the Super Bowl, the Carolina Panthers have sputtered to a 1-4 start—with Monday night’s last-second home defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pushing Carolina’s season to the brink of irrelevancy.
According to Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer, only eight of 128 teams to start 1-4 since 1990 have made the postseason.
But the Panthers aren’t exactly rare, at least in terms of dealing with a Super Bowl hangover. Carolina is now the seventh team to start a season with four losses in five games after playing in the previous year’s Super Bowl:
The Panthers are the 7th team to lose 4 of its first 5 games after appearing in Super Bowl the previous season
(via @EliasSports )
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 11, 2016
Few saw this coming.
“It’s not what we expected, but that’s how the NFL works,” linebacker Luke Kuechly said, via ESPN. “We just have to rebound. That’s really what it comes down to. You don’t expect to be in this position, but we’re in this position, and now it’s, ‘How are we going to respond?'”
Luckily, the Panthers can look to last season for examples of how to respond.
Two teams—the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans—recovered from 1-4 starts to make the postseason.
The Chiefs actually started 1-5, but a 10-game winning streak to finish the season propelled Kansas City into the postseason as a wild card in the AFC.
The Texans won eight of their final 11 games to claim the AFC South crown.
Essentially, the Panthers have two clear paths out of this 1-4 start: Either embark on another long winning streak, or being the slow rebound and hope the rest of the NFC South falls on its face.
“The mindset of this team is we can easily win out,” running back Cameron Artis-Payne said. “We put together a 14-game stretch where we won last year. And we can put together whatever stretch this year.”
The Panthers are down, but don’t count the defending NFC champs out quite yet.