The dust has settled. Emotions have calmed. Well, mine have at least but I get the feeling that plenty of Panthers fans woke up this morning with an awful taste in their mouth and plenty of vitriol for Ron Rivera. The loss to the Buffalo Bills 24-23 came as no surprise to fans who have followed this team under Rivera’s watch, and that is exactly the problem.
When a rookie quarterback goes 80 years in a 1:38 with no timeouts it should be a surprise. It shouldn’t warrant a shrug of the shoulders and an “I told you so.” But it did. There was no shock or disbelief, just frustration and rage. Coming into the season the Panthers had blown eight fourth quarter leads under Rivera. Through the first two weeks of the season that number is up 10, but this latest blown lead was the king of them all.
Why? Because many of us didn’t look at the ugly truth of those eight losses over the past two years and chose to believe that things would magically change. We rationalized the loss to Seattle with it coming against a top team. We figured that against a lesser opponent in Buffalo that things would be different, but how silly of us to not look to the past to see the future. The bottom line is that no matter who Carolina lines up against they find ways to lose games that are close in the fourth quarter. For many of us this latest loss was the realization that things aren’t going to change with Rivera on the sideline.
Players are going to point to missed opportunities (there were plenty) as a reason for the loss, but the Bills missed plenty of opportunities throughout the game and twice extended drives for the Panthers with stupid penalties. The result of a holding call on a punt resulted in a first down for the Carolina, which eventually led to Ted Ginn Jr.’s 40-yard touchdown reception. EJ Manuel looked very much like the rookie he is throughout the contest and if he would have connected on some routine throws this would have been a different ballgame.
The missed opportunities excuse can be used each and every week. Buffalo had plenty, but when it mattered they came through, something the Panthers weren’t able to do and, well, never seem to be able to do.
What you would like to see is the coaching staff creating more opportunities in which the Panthers can deliver on in primetime situations. There was an opportunity to end the game with a first down on a 4-and-1 that is going to be the most debated decision of the game these next few days. That’s a play right there where you can create an opportunity to have your team close. Close a game once and it’s more likely to happen the next time a similar situation rolls around.
Play not to lose and you wind up 2-14 in close games and on the chopping block. Why Rivera isn’t in Eff You mode right now is perplexing. He should be going balls to the wall knowing that if he doesn’t take this team to the playoffs he’s gone. David Gettleman has no ties to him. The only way he stays is if he wins, yet he insists on relying on a formula that has not produced very many.
By Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results) Rivera is not sane when it comes to making key game decisions. The misused timeouts, the lack of aggressiveness in short yardage situations when Cam Newton is your quarterback, the continuous reliance on the defense to close out games and the over reliance on the passing attack has worn thin.
It seems that the 2013 Panthers are headed towards another lost season. One which provides more questions than answers, and one that once again leaves a fanbase with a bitter taste in their mouth on Monday mornings. I don’t know about you but I miss the grit and savvy of the Jake Delhomme-led teams. They weren’t always the most talented, yet they knew how to close out a game and rise up to a challenge. Let’s hope that the winds from Louisiana can carry that fire Jake played with to Bank of America Stadium when the Panthers battle Eli Manning and the New York Giants.