Kelvin Benjamin cut, collapsed and grabbed his knee. Fans all across the state felt like they were about to have a heart attack. Cam Newton ran over to see if he was all right. Benjamin lay on the ground, clutching that knee and was eventually driven off on a cart.
When the news broke, people rushed right to the worst possible scenario. He tore his ACL, they said. The season is already over, others said. It’s not even Week 1, and the Panthers are dead in the water.
At first, it didn’t look like it was true. Reports were that Benjamin just sprained his knee, and he was scheduled for an MRI. Unfortunately, the MRI showed that the fan speculation—spurred in part by the fact that it was a non-contact injury—was right. Benjamin has torn his ACL and he’s out for the entire year.
The injury shows how incredibly fragile an NFL season can be. This is a team that has won its division two years in a row, a team with a highly-paid QB who is thought to be a franchise-caliber player. A team with a Pro Bowl linebacker at the top of his game.
They have talent — this isn’t a team of scrubs. But they still just lost any real chance to compete in one non-contact play.
Wideout has not been their strongest position as of late. They got rid of Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell two years ago. Smith went to the playoffs with the Ravens and LaFell went on to win the Super Bowl with the Patriots. The Panthers didn’t look nearly as good, but they did win the division again, and Benjamin was very impressive as a rookie, breaking 1,000 yards as the only significant target on the team.
The guy the Panthers are asking to step up now is Devin Funchess. He had a good preseason game, but he’s also a rookie and he played tight end for much of his time at Michigan. Some thought he couldn’t make the shift to wideout in the NFL at all, much less be the top target.
But that’s the NFL, these days. Teams need to have stars to win. The Patriots wouldn’t have won the Super Bowl without Tom Brady; the Seahawks wouldn’t have been there without Marshawn Lynch. For many teams, any realistic chance at a title rests on the shoulders of one or two players.
If they go down, that’s it.
The Panthers won’t make a serious playoff run with Kelvin Benjamin on the bench and Funchess as their lead wideout.
This is a horrible situation for Benjamin, one of the league’s bright young stars, and for the Panthers as an organization. It’s something no one ever wants to see. It also has to have fans of all teams on edge, knowing just how quickly the same or worse could happen to their stars.