A loss to the Saints on Sunday would put Matt Rhule at 0-3 to start his third season, with a 10-game losing streak stretching back to last November. Could that do him in?
Are we witnessing the final weeks of the Matt Rhule regime? The embattled Carolina Panthers head coach has struggled to find on-field success since being hired back in 2020, at times feuding with his former offensive coordinator Joe Brady and local media in Carolina. Speculation is already swirling about his interest in returning to college as Nebraska’s next coach, replacing Scott Frost. His Panthers team has finished third and fourth in the division standings in the last two years, and now they’re 0-2 with the New Orleans Saints coming to town. Could another loss do him in?
Rhule’s team won five games in his first year on the job, which was kind of a wash given all of the chaos surrounding the 2020 season. Teddy Bridgewater started 15 of those games, completing 340 of his 492 passes (69.2%) for 3,733 yards, scoring 15 touchdown passes against 11 interceptions (while also running 53 times for 279 yards and 5 touchdown carries). Bridgewater was sacked 31 times and committed 6 fumbles.
That wasn’t enough to keep Rhule from making a change, bringing in Sam Darnold as his new starter. Darnold started 11 games, completing 234 of his 406 attempts (59.9%) for 2,527 yards, scoring 9 touchdown passes while throwing 13 interceptions (and running 48 times to gain 222 yards, scoring 5 touchdowns on the ground). He fumbled 9 times and took 35 sacks. Carolina only won five games in Rhule’s season season.
Now they’re starting Baker Mayfield, who has completed 30 of his first 56 pass attempts (53.6%), scoring 2 touchdown passes and throwing 1 interception. He’s run 11 times, gaining 41 yards and scoring another touchdown, but he’s already taken 6 sacks going into Week 3. He hasn’t fumbled yet, though. But it’s really hard to look at those stat lines and come away thinking Rhule has downgraded at quarterback — twice.
The Panthers’ 2021 season ended with a seven-game losing streak, and it’s stretched into 2022 after they lost each of their first two games. Another defeat this Sunday to the Saints would make for a 10-game streak of losses (they haven’t won a game since Nov. 14, 2021), and it’s really tough to see someone surviving that. It would drop Rhule’s record as an NFL head coach to 10-25 overall, meaning he’d have lost as many games in a row as he’s won in total. It’s also how many consecutive losses it took the Raiders to fire Dennis Allen.
But it would be unusual for a team to fire its head coach this early in the season. Allen experienced a similar rocky start with the Raiders but they waited until after Week 4 (back in 2014) to cut him loose. The Jaguars waited until mid-December to jettison Urban Meyer last year. Even the least successful head coaches tend to hang around until October. While it sure looks as if Rhule is on the hot seat, and college opportunities will be out there (he rose to prominence at Temple and Baylor before making the jump to the NFL), it would be kind of a stunner to see him dismissed just three weeks into the season. And that’s contingent on the Saints actually winning on Sunday. We’ve got to remember that the Panthers got the better of them in this same venue just last year.
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