Why, after becoming the first NFL team to allow two 450-yard passers in a three-game span, did the Carolina Panthers sign two tight ends during the bye week?
Monday is why.
The return of cornerbacks James Bradberry, Robert McClain and potentially Leonard Johnson may not completely cure the league’s 26th-ranked pass defense, but to the Panthers, it’s a better solution than signing a guy off his couch.
“I’m excited about it because it bodes well for us as we go through the second stretch of the season,” coach Ron Rivera said.
You can argue whether the Panthers have pinned too much of their hope on a second-round pick from Samford, but the secondary’s free fall began when Bradberry exited Week Four’s blowout loss in Atlanta early with turf toe. Barring any setbacks, the de facto No. 1 corner should be back on the field Sunday when the Panthers host Arizona.
McClain’s also on pace to come back from a hamstring pull that kept him from making the trip to New Orleans, and the Panthers will make a decision later in the week on Johnson, who could return from the non-football injury list to fill a role at nickelback.
The secondary could also use some help from the pass rush, which should receive a boost from first-round defensive tackle Vernon Butler, who practiced for the first time since suffering a high-ankle sprain in Week Three.
“I was really anxious to get back out there,” the soft-spoken Butler said. “I’m glad I waited and didn’t rush it.”
None of the names who returned Monday will create headlines outside the Carolinas, but if the Panthers have any chance of digging out of their 1-5 start, the reinforcements provide a lifeline. And with Atlanta dropping two straight to fall to 4-3, it’s not surprising the optimistic Rivera believes a playoff push is still possible.
“Oh yeah, absolutely. Why not? We’ve still got 10 games left,” he said.
“We’re right in the mix. That’s the way you’ve got to look at it. You’ve just got to keep believing you’ve got an opportunity. You never know. It may all come back to us.”