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NFL: Panthers can't finish

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he’s “not concerned” about his job security following Carolina’s latest fourth quarter collapse.The Panthers blew a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bears before losing 23-22 Sunday on a last-second field goal by Robbie Gould.
It marked the fourth straight game Carolina (1-6) has lost after holding a lead in the fourth quarter.
“At the end of the day I’m being evaluated,” Rivera said. “But right now, it’s not something I can be concerned with. If you start to worrying (about your job) and playing for the wrong reasons you’re not going to give yourself a chance. When the moment comes or the time comes to be concerned, or not be concerned, then I’ll go from there.”
As for where the Panthers go from here is anyone’s guess.
At 1-6 talk has shifted from waning playoff hopes to chances of landing the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft and unloading players via trade.
Although the Panthers are open to listening to all trade offers, Rivera said they aren’t actively shopping any of their players. That includes, he said, the franchise’s all-time leading rusher DeAngelo Williams.
That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, of course.
Williams, who signed a five-year, $41.5 million contract in 2011, was benched two weeks ago for Jonathan Stewart and has been a non-factor in the offense since.
“We’ve got to sit here and see if somebody does call, but we’re not looking to move anybody or send anybody away or try to get anybody out there,” Rivera said. “I don’t think we have a lot to give in terms of trying to trade for players. Right now we’re going to go through it and stay with who we are.”
Rivera’s focus is instead on getting a win.
The Panthers have lost five straight, the last four in gut-wrenching fashion.
“It’s unfortunate, but we have to keep pounding,” Rivera said. “We have to keep at it. We did the types of things we need to do to give ourselves a chance to win. At some point along the lines we will get that opportunity and we will win. But right now we have to keep the commitment.”
Rivera said he’s pleased with the way his team played in its first game since general manager Marty Hurney was fired last Monday, although he obviously didn’t like the outcome.
Neither did receiver Steve Smith, who unloaded after the game.
Smith called the string of losses “tiresome, monotonous” and said “a few guys in here are perturbed and (upset), but we’re beyond heartbreak. We’re just getting upset.”
The Panthers began the season with Super Bowl aspirations with center Ryan Kalil taking out a full-page advertisement in the Charlotte Observer predicting the team would win its first Vince Lombardi trophy, but the team stumbled out of the blocks and hasn’t found the killer instinct to put teams away.
The Panthers are 0-5 in games decided by seven points or less this year and 1-10 in two seasons under in the Rivera-Cam Newton era.
Against Atlanta, Newton fumbled the ball away on a third-down run with a chance to ice the game. The following week versus Seattle Newton missed an open receiver in the end zone in the fourth quarter for the potential go-ahead score. And last week against Dallas, Carolina let a 14-13 lead slip through its hands when its offense went in the tank.
Against Chicago, it was a series of events that led to the loss, including a 6-yard punt by rookie Brad Nortman and Smith slipping on an out route, resulting in an easy Bears interception return for a touchdown.
“When you have young players and a team that is being put together you have to learn how to win,” said defensive end Greg Hardy, who had three of Carolina’s six sacks on Sunday. “You have to build a tradition of winning. … When it’s not a tradition it’s just a bunch of guys trying to put it together like a puzzle with a whole bunch of pieces.”
Smith agreed.
He’s just not sure the Panthers are building the right kind of tradition.
“There is a tradition growing here and I’m not sure which way this tradition is going,” Smith said.
What this all means for Rivera down the line remains to be seen.
“Ron is as solid as a rock,” said offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. “He’s the same person day in and day out and you appreciate that. He’s not a guy who is going to panic. He’s very competitive. He’s the same guy. But we’re all being evaluated and we all know that.
“We’re going to do the things we need to do turn things around and win games. You see signs of it coming, but it’s a matter of keep fighting and things will turn our way at some point.”
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP NFL

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