Cursed season: Takeaways from a series of Panthers woes

Luke Kuechly, shown in a golf cart as he reported to camp Wednesday, shared his passion for making fishing lures in "All or Nothing." Jeff Siner/The Charlotte Observer

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton couldn't throw the deep ball for much of the second half of the 2018 season. He admittedly couldn't throw a pass of more than 30 yards with accuracy and without pain.

But there were plenty of bombs being thrown by the Panthers.


Not that foul language is uncommon in the NFL or in the locker room of any sport. You just don't often see it as up close and personal as was captured in the Amazon Prime Video series "All or Nothing," an eight-part, behind-the-scenes look at Carolina's season that began 6-2 and fell apart with a seven-game losing streak.

Whether it was coach Ron Rivera's halftime tirade in a Thursday night shellacking at Pittsburgh or tight end Greg Olsen's disappointment of seeing his second straight season end prematurely because of his damaged right foot, the frustration of a season gone sour came out in capital Fs.

Even middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, perhaps the Mr. Clean of the NFL, was caught using words you wouldn't use in church.

"No, that was a voiceover," Kuechly said Wednesday with a laugh as the Panthers reported to training camp at Wofford College. "That wasn't me; that was a voiceover! They must've did something.

"No, man, it's a game; everyone's having -- it's intense out there. It's just sometimes, stuff slips out every once in a while."

The series was released last week, and some Panthers players and coaches haven't taken the time to watch and relive a season that began with great hope.

Rivera hasn't watched it. He knows how it went.

But the inside look at moments typically not seen by the general public makes it worthy viewing, with a warning to those offended by profanity and heartbreak.

Here's what stood out as the Panthers put last year behind them by reporting to camp Wednesday.

Donte Jackson vs. Antonio Brown

The Panthers were 6-2 heading into the Steelers game. They entrusted the coverage of Brown, arguably the league's best receiver, to Jackson, a rookie out of LSU.

Jackson had played well, collecting four interceptions in his first eight games. But teammates believed Jackson's mistakes were being repeated instead of corrected, and overlooked because of the picks. They believed this had to be corrected -- immediately.

In stepped strong safety Mike Adams, nickelback Captain Munnerlyn and free safety Eric Reid for a heart-to-heart in the team meeting room.

"I understand you gonna be good and you all that" Adams told Jackson. "But we -- us three -- we gonna sit you down and be like, 'Nah, you ain't that good.' Until you shut some s--- down, nah, bro! And we here to see you dominate. What I told you: That No. 2 receiver shouldn't eat s---. Now you got a No. 1."

The No. 1, Brown, got the best of Jackson for a 53-yard touchdown in the 52-21 romp that began Carolina's slide. Jackson pitched a fit on the sideline, claiming Brown pushed off to get the pass.

Rivera ripped into Jackson at halftime, saying, "Don't lose your mind. Don't let him get inside of your head. You've got just as much skill anybody on that damn field. You don't let that f---er push you around. You're too good!"

Then Rivera ripped into the team with a litany of F-bombs.

Jackson didn't appreciate the way he was portrayed in the series, writing on Twitter that it "pissed me off lowkey; y'all did me down bad." He continued to show his dissatisfaction in a second tweet.

Rivera said he hasn't had a conversation with Jackson, who arrived at camp wearing a T-shirt with a picture of himself, arms spread, and the words "I'm like that" on the front.

"I'd much rather have a guy who takes it personal, that is upset, that in the heat of moment wants to be successful," Rivera said. "I've got no issue with it. I'm here for Donte if he wants to talk about it, but I have no issue with what happened."

Kuechly: Fishing lures to golf carts

There was a scene in one episode of Kuechly intently making a fly-fishing lure as he talked football. It's a hobby he picked up as a kid, and one he continues with the same passion he puts into film study.

"That's my favorite thing to do," Kuechly said. “I like fishing. It's fun when you tie something and catch a fish with something you tie. It feels like you won."

The inside look into Kuechly off the field gave us a glimpse of a personality not often seen. One of the funniest moments in the series came when Kuechly and Newton called former Carolina cornerback Josh Norman on FaceTime before they face Norman and his new team, the Washington Redskins.

"You look fat," Kuechly told Norman, who is anything but.

Rivera's takeover of the defense

Rivera perhaps took too long in not pulling the trigger on firing two defensive assistants earlier than the 13th game, when he took over the playcalling from defensive coordinator Eric Washington.

It was obvious earlier in the season that Washington, in his first year as a coordinator, needed help and the defense had lost its identity after being a top-10 unit for much of Rivera's first seven seasons.

The scene after a loss to Seattle was telling. Washington asked players what they learned from the loss. Rivera walked down the stairs and said, "I'll tell you what I learned," and then lit into players for walking out of the huddle and not holding one another accountable.

"Listening and watching, no accountability," Rivera said sternly. "No accountability. That's something that is missing on this defensive unit that used to happen a lot more than it is now."

Rivera brought some of that back to the defense in the final four games, and hopes to bring more this year as he continues to call plays in the transition to more 3-4 schemes.

Ryan Kalil's tears

The Panthers had lost their sixth straight game, a 12-9 home setback to the New Orleans Saints that for all realistic purposes ended Carolina's playoff hopes. Kalil was alone in the team meeting room, his face buried in his hands and tears pouring down his face.

In walked Rivera.

As Kalil dried the tears, Rivera tapped his captain on the shoulder and said, "I appreciate what you did, kiddo. We love you. Keep your head up. We've got two left to finish strong."

Kalil, who before the season announced it would be his last, responded in a soft voice, "We will."

It was one of the more touching moments of the series. It affirmed that Rivera, usually seen stoic with his arms folded on the sideline, was a dynamic leader.

It was a reminder of the passion coaches and players have for the game, and how seeing the results slip away sometimes leads to words not made for delicate ears.