After spending the summer celebrated as potential playoff material, the Carolina Panthers have been one of the NFL's biggest disappointments.
Their 1-4 start has a lot to do with a defense that can't stop opponents -- ranking 23rd in the league -- but the focus is on Cam Newton. The team's self-appointed "Superman" has bumped up against a wall in his second season, ranking 23rd in passing while throwing just four touchdown passes all season.
Newton rolled out of the gate as a rookie in 2011, playing off raw instinct to torch opponents and reset expectations for what a first-year NFL quarterback could accomplish. Year 2 has featured increased indecision in the pocket and a lack of chemistry between Newton and his targets. He has appeared mortal, and so have the Panthers, but Newton hasn't lost hope ahead of Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys.
"I think it's a big challenge for everybody to see what we can do because everything is still possible," Newton told The Charlotte Observer. "The season is far (from) a wash. It's time for us to prove it. There's a lot of expectations going into this season. And for us to get the vibe going and pick up the vibe for this whole season, it's just going to have to start this game."
Here's the bad news: Only seven out of the 156 teams that started 1-4 since 1978 made it to the playoffs. The postseason might be out of the question in a strong NFC, but progress also has to do with Newton, who could quell concerns about his evolution with a strong run of games through the meat of the Panthers' schedule. It can't come too soon for Carolina.
Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.