Panthers' frustration mounts

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 1, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) While Panthers coach Ron Rivera isn’t second-guessing his decision making in Sunday’s heartbreaking 30-28 loss to the Falcons, he is considering a change at free safety.Haruki Nakamura had a nightmarish day for the Panthers.
He had a hand in allowing all three Atlanta touchdowns, and the 59-yard reception by Roddy White when the Falcons were backed up at their 1-yard line with 59 seconds left in the game. That reception led to Matt Bryant’s game-winning 40-yard field goal.
Rivera said he’ll evaluate the free safety position this week as the Panthers prepare to host Russell Wilson and the Seahawks Sunday.
That includes Sherrod Martin, a two-year starter for Carolina who was benched this summer after the team signed Nakamura then a Baltimore free agent.
“We’re going to evaluate different combinations and what those possibilities can be,” Rivera said. “I think when you go back and look at what happened in training camp, I didn’t think Sherrod did a bad job. And we’ve got obviously until Sunday to make a decision on what we’re going to do.”
Rivera said Nakamura had a “tough day” but pointed out he also made a couple of good plays earlier in the game, including an interception in the red zone. He also broke up another pass.
But the bad certainly outweighed the good.
Nakamura, who backed up Ed Reed in Baltimore for four years and has been a special teams player throughout his NFL career, allowed two touchdown passes to White and failed to bring down Michael Turner on a rambling 60-yard pass reception for another score.
But the biggest play came when Ryan heaved a ball downfield to a leaping White, who got behind Nakamura and cornerback Josh Norman.
“You want to keep everything in front of you, in particular at that point in the game,” defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said.
Despite that blown coverage, McDermott said he hasn’t lost confidence in Nakamura calling him “a winner.”
But that doesn’t mean a change won’t come.
“That’s something we’re looking at right now and making sure we’ve got the best players on the field to give us a chance to win,” McDermott said.
Nakamura’s mistake followed a controversial coaching decision by Rivera, one that will be debated by Carolina fans all week.
With the Panthers leading 28-27 and looking to put the Falcons away, Cam Newton ran for what would have been a game-clinching first down on third-and-2 but he fumbled after crossing the first down marker and the ball bounced backward. Fullback Mike Tolbert managed to recover, but the Panthers were suddenly faced a fourth-and-1 with 1:09 left.
Rivera decided to punt rather than go for jugular.
That decision seemed to pay off with Brad Nortman pinning the Falcons down at the 1-yard line.
But after Ryan’s bomb to White and two other short completions, the Falcons had worked themselves into field goal range and would beat the Panthers for the seventh time in eight games.
Rivera said Monday he’s never second guessed his decision to punt the ball away.
“Not at all,” Rivera said. “I think if you sit there and you go for it and you get it, great. But if you go for it and don’t get it they’re in better position (to score). It worked out with the ball on the 1 and that’s as good as it gets. You’d like to believe you’re able to prevent them (from scoring) at that point.”
But the Panthers weren’t.
“If we make a play, it’s a different game, but now we’re talking about ifs and buts,” Rivera said.
The Panthers (1-3) blew a golden opportunity to pull within a game of the Falcons in the NFC South and gain some momentum entering the second quarter of their season.
Instead, they’re three games back of the unbeaten Falcons (4-0).
Rivera said there were plenty of positives to take from the game the Panthers had a franchise-record seven sacks and Newton played near flawless football until his costly fumble but on Monday that is all little consolation for a frustrated Panthers team.
“All you can do is move on,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said.
“We are a young football team, but at some point you’ve got to get past that, because at some point you run out of time,” Rivera said. “We don’t want to run out of time.”
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