Although the Panthers have only been in the NFL since 1995 and have enjoyed success, there have been a wide array of hideous teams in their 20-season history. There was the miserable 2-14 calamity in 2010 that ultimately led to the drafting of Cam Newton, the unexpectedly poor 4-12 1998 season, and although the 2014 Panthers are currently 4-8-1, no team has lost quite as ugly as them with the exception of the hideous Buccaneers. The 2001 team, however, will always go down as the worst in franchise history.
The Panthers did a good job drafting in 2001, after head coach George Seifert was hired in 1999. In 2001, the Panthers drafted three Pro Bowl players in the first three draft rounds, picking up linebacker Dan Morgan, defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, and the one and mercifully only Steve Smith. In the fourth round, they selected quarterback Chris Weinke “Tinky”, and Carolina looked ready for a season above .500.
In the first game of the season at Minnesota, the Panthers won handily against a Vikings team that had been very good in the last three seasons, winning fifteen games in 1998 and reaching the playoffs in 1999. They managed to get to the NFC Championship Game in 2000, but were crunched by the Giants in a shutout loss. In 2001, the Vikings ultimately won only five games, and one of their eleven losses was against Carolina. Despite out-gaining the Panthers 343-291, they turned over the ball 5 times and allowed a 93-yard kickoff return to Steve Smith on the opening kickoff. Carolina would win the game 24-13.
The 2001 Panthers will best be remembered for starting their season like a lion and going out like a sacrificial lamb: the Panthers lost their next 15 games in a row, their opponents outscoring them 397-237 in the process. Carolina lost six games by a field goal or less, and went 0-2 in overtime contests.
Although the offense wasn’t as unwatchable as the 2010 rendition featuring Jimmy Clausen, it was still a slow, nonfunctional unit led by a rookie quarterback. Chris Weinke was thrown into the fire immediately, forced to start fifteen out of the sixteen games that were played. What resulted was a messy rookie campaign in which Weinke only completed 54.3% of his passes for 2,931 yards, 11 touchdowns to 19 interceptions. His rating stood at a flat 62.0, and although he was a rookie, you can certainly do better than that.
Left-handed Matt Lytle started the other game Weinke missed against the Rams in Week 9, completing only 17 of 30 passes for 133 yards, a single touchdown and 3 interceptions. His rating stood at a terrible 39.3.
Coincidentally, all the pictures of Carolina’s leading rusher on Google Images, Richard Huntley, are all of him getting stuffed. The running game suffered mightily for the Panthers in 2001, netting only 1,372 yards in total. Huntley wasn’t a great player, certainly not one you want leading the team in the rushing category. Huntley carried the ball 165 times for 665 yards and 2 touchdowns, a 4.0 yards-per-carry average. The only other back to score a rushing touchdown was Tim Biakabutuka, who scored 1. Chris Weinke scored 6 rushing touchdowns to lead the team by a landslide, but most of them were 1-yard goalline sneaks.
Donald Hayes, a guy I haven’t heard of before or since, finished as Carolina’s leading receiver in 2001. Because of the weak play of Chris Weinke, he didn’t put up great numbers, but then again, nobody really did. Hayes caught 52 passes for 597 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The running game could only manage 3.9 yards-per-carry as a team, not very good considering their passing game could only squeak out 193.6 yards-per-game and 12 touchdowns all season. As an offense, the team could only score 253 points all season, an average of 15.8 per game.
The defense didn’t do anything particularly bad, recording 26 sacks, 24 interceptions and 3 defensive touchdowns…well, those are bad, but nothing really stands out. They wouldn’t be that bad, but they did have to play New England and the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams twice. The D gave up 371.4 yards and 25.6 points per game.
The low point of the season actually came against the future Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots in the season’s final week. In cold, unpleasant Carolina weather, only 16,000 Carolina fans showed up to a game that registered an official attendance number of 71,907 fans. In essence, the Panthers had to play a road game…at home. They would lose the game 38-6 to cement their 1-15 record.
George Seifert…talk about tarnishing a legacy. Although he finishing his career with San Francisco with the highest winning percentage for any coach in league history, he re-appeared with the Panthers in 1999 and finished his second coming with a record of 16-32. Not only did he ruin his namesake, but he ruined his shot at a Hall of Fame spot.
Although the Panthers made the playoffs in 2013 and promptly lost, they don’t look like they’re going to return anytime soon. There’s a good chance Ron Rivera will be fired as head coach, and after that, I’m not sure what’s in store for them, but I don’t think they’ll ever be 1-15 again…hopefully.