Okay, so it finally happened. After weeks of squeakers and blown leads, only to pull things out at the end, the magic ran out in Atlanta Sunday. It's not all that surprising that the Falcons were the team to do it when you think about it. Dan Quinn, Atlanta's first-year head coach, is a Pete Carroll disciple as he was the Defensive Coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks for years before taking on the head gig in Georgia.
Quinn knew where to attack on both sides of the ball and whom to take away on our offense - the key was Ted Ginn in this case - forcing Carolina to march the length of the field to score. Without J-Stew, things weren't so easy on the ground as they were two weeks ago after the Atlanta defense settled down following Carolina's early (and only) TD drive.
It seems like Atlanta had an answer for everything the team did. Ironically, the defense played extremely well in this loss, save for a horrible match-up near the end of the game when Luke Kuechly was in deep coverage against Julio Jones. I don't care how good any MLB is - they'll never, ever be a match to cover one of the NFL's best WRs. Not his job any more than Julio could "truck" Luke (as Cam did to Atlanta's entire defense, btw).
The point here is that, despite bumper-sticker platitudes about how "losing is never a good thing" or whatnot, the fact is that it can be a good thing if handled the right way. For every platitude about winning (it isn't everything - it's the only thing), I can site one about losing (you learn more from adversity than from success).
Winning Isn't Everything - It's the Only Thing
In fact, some unlucky Twitter soul picked a fight of sorts with TWO Panthers fans - both ladies. Bad idea. He said a lot of negative things about the team, but that's symptomatic of exactly why I think a loss could help on their way to the Super Bowl. The Twitter fight-picker said "Losing is never a good thing because it shows everybody else you can be beat."
My reply was "Losing once isn't a bad thing because it also shows everybody on the PANTHERS that they can be beaten as well." Sometimes you have to learn the hard lessons and get that splash of cold water thrown in your face to wake up and face the music.
A performance like that in the playoffs will send the team home no matter who they face, and you can bet Ron Rivera is letting his team know about it all. Remember, he's one of the few who have Been There, Done That, and gotten the ring (FORGET the damn T-shirt) as a player on a one-loss Super Bowl winning team in the form of the 1985 Chicago Bears.
Those Bears lost a Monday Night Football game in front of a national audience in Miami. They didn't just get beaten; they got demolished by Dan Marino's quick release on three step drops. Atlanta didn't exactly demolish Carolina, but I'm hoping the psychological effect is the same.
The fact is, there are at least 2 other games that could EASILY have been losses. Greg Olsen had to make a grab on 4th down just off the polyturf to keep hope alive in a recent game, and against the Texans, it took a spectacular Josh Norman interception in the end zone to seal it.
Yesterday's setback should serve to awaken any slumbering or coasting players. It's an easy trap to fall into. We as fans have gotten fat and happy with the 18-game regular season winning streak and just come to expect winning. People were starting to take it for granted. I'm wondering if some of the players, at least secretly, began to let up a bit on a subconscious level too.
If so, that's over, and if anything, Coach Rivera is THE coach to look to in this situation because of that very experience with the Chicago Bears. They dominated people especially post-Miami. Players will be looking to coach R for guidance and experience. It will make any that formerly thought they "had the game figured out" open-minded to suggestions from the coaches. If anyone has the tools in the toolbox to handle this thing at this point, Ron Rivera is the one for the job. Carolina is lucky to have him and his leadership will be what carries the team through adversity.
One thing is for certain: Whether it's this year, next year, or the following year, the Carolina Panthers are a team on the rise and should be a formidable foe for many years to come.
Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye