NFL: Panthers squandering opportunities
CHARLOTTE — If the Carolina Panthers are going to start turning flashy offensive numbers into something more than moral victories, they’ll need to start doing the little things right.
And that starts with the head coach.
Ron Rivera continued to beat himself up Monday, one day after an ill-advised timeout at the end of the first half cost his team three points in a 30-27 division loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Rivera said he learned “a great lesson” from Sunday.
“I live it with it,” Rivera said. “It’s one of the messages that I talk about to the players about, win or lose, you’ve got to take something from this game and learn from it. It is something that is a hard lesson to take, but I learned it.”
The Panthers (1-4) seem to learn a new lesson each week.
They have been so close every week that they could be unbeaten, which only serves to amplify the focus on the mistakes. The Panthers have lost all four games by seven points or less. But each week mental mistakes and missed opportunities have turned potential season-changing victories into bitter defeats.
Normally it’s been the players.
But on Sunday it was a coaching error by Rivera at the end of the first half that led to a key 46-yard field goal by ex-Panther John Kasay.
With 18 seconds remaining, Drew Brees completed a third-down pass to Darren Sproles, who couldn’t get out of bounds. With no timeouts, the Saints frantically rushed to get their field goal unit on the field. The Panthers responded by sending their kick block team on, resulting in mass confusion with players running on and off the field.
In the heat of the moment, Rivera called timeout with two seconds left fearful the Panthers might get penalized for having too many men on the field.
That gave New Orleans, which didn’t look anywhere near ready to attempt a long field goal, a chance to reset and kick the field goal to take a 20-13 halftime lead. The mistake was amplified as the Panthers would go on to lose by that three-point margin.
In hindsight, Rivera said the better decision might have been not to try to change personnel while the clock was running out and, at the very least, not call the timeout.
“Unfortunately the decision I made wasn’t the right one,” he said.
Rivera talked to his players on Monday during team meetings and promised it wouldn’t happen again.
Of course none of the players were about to pin the loss on their head coach, especially when the Panthers came back and took a 27-23 lead earlier in the fourth quarter.
“That’s not why we lost,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “There’s a lot of other things we could have done to have a different outcome. But that’s the type of coach he is. He’s going to take responsibility when he feels there’s something he could have done better. But it shouldn’t have come down to that.
“We had our chances. It’s kind of the same story for us.”
That’s just the latest example of a string of poorly timed mistakes for the Panthers.
The week before against Chicago, the Panthers allowed another ex-Panther — Julius Peppers — to block a field goal and had a badly kicked punt result in a touchdown return by Devin Hester. They also were on the wrong end of a pass interference call on tight end Jeremy Shockey, nullifying a 22-yard touchdown reception.
Against Green Bay the Panthers jumped out to a 13-0 lead but squandered that after some miscommunication in the defensive secondary and a few slips in coverage led to a pair of long Aaron Rodgers touchdown passes.
And in the season opening loss to Arizona, a blown coverage and allowed a late 89-yard punt return were amidst a myriad of mental mistakes resulting in a fourth quarter meltdown.
“I think more so than anything it’s our inability to make plays at the right time,” Rivera said of the team’s 1-4 record. “We have been able to get ourselves in position and give ourselves a chance and now we have to finish. And by finishing, I mean make a play, whether it’s a catch-and-run, a big sack or a forced fumble, something like that. And not make mistakes to hurt ourselves and take advantage of our situations.
“If we have teams backed up, we have to keep them backed up. We have our chances to score touchdowns, let’s score touchdowns and don’t kick field goals. Those type of things. We need to learn and develop and make those things happen.”
Still, Rivera things will turn around.
“We believe when it turns around here it’s going to be really good,” the coach said.