The Carolina Panthers beat the New Orleans Saints 27 -22 at Bank of America Stadium. This matchup was important because it was a game between division rivals. The Panthers were projected to win this game by 9.5 points when news spread that Saints' starting quarterback Drew Brees had an injured shoulder. But the Panthers only ended up winning this game by 5 points, and it wasn't a "Brees." Why was that?Read More
The Carolina Panthers won their home opener by defeating the Houston Texans 24 - 17. In my matchup preview I said, "There is no way the Texans will win this game." Well this game was a lot closer than I wanted it to be. The Panthers had a tough time sustaining drives on offense because of penalties, and poor play. Cam Newton is still lacking on his throwing technique, but he was flying all over the field like Superman.Read More
Houston Texans vs. Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers struggled on offense last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars actually recorded 2 more total yards of offense than the Panthers (265-263 yards). The Panthers' receivers dropped some balls, the run game wasn't successful, and Cam Newton looked to be indecisive at times. But that didn't seem to matter because the Panthers still won 20-9. Their best offense was their defense. The Panthers defense recorded three turnovers, five sacks, and one touchdown.Read More
Sunday, the Carolina Panthers will attempt it when they venture to Cincinnati to take on the 3-1 Bengals. Cincinnati, who are 7 point favorites and have won 11 straight home games, are looking to wipe the egg of their face from the Patriots prime-time beating this past Sunday.
This is going to be a tough match-up for the Panthers. Cincinnati is good. Prior to Sunday, the Bengals defense allowed only 11 points per game. Cam Newton will need to be quick and decisive against this stifling defense because the Bengals defensive front is guaranteed to get pressure. Geno Atkins will get push up the middle on the youngins and Nate Chandler, given his performance so far, will be easy work for Carlos Dunlop.
If Carolina is going to win this game, though, it will it will be because of their defense. It’s the team's identity. It’s also what travels best in the NFL. Carolina’s defense has been vulnerable this season, however. Giving up tons points and yards, Cincinnati’s respectable offense will be a challenging opponent.
Carolina’s defense caught caught a break Wednesday. Green, who is arguably the NFL’s best receiver, was carted off the practice field because of a debilitating toe injury. Thursday, a specialist advised Green to sit out Sunday due to the severity of this injury.
Green is a guy the Panthers can’t cover, nobody can really. The best corners in the league have trouble with this guy, so there’s no way the Panthers secondary could stop even an injured Green.
For Cincinnati, this means Dalton and Bernard will need to tow the line. Suddenly this became a much more winnable game for the Panthers. Without Dalton’s pet superstar, the Bengals become more one dimensional. Mohamed Sanu will certainly be more manageable for Carolina's secondary. He hasn’t been all that effective throughout his career, and in his best season yet, the numbers aren’t that intimidating.
Without Green to worry about, Carolina can focus more on hurrying Dalton and containing Bernard. The more pressure on Dalton the better for Carolina, both literally and figuratively.
If Carolina’s offensive line can hold up long enough for Cam to move the ball, Carolina’s defense has a good shot at limiting Cincinnati’s production. Sunday, we may just see the Panthers catch this tiger by the toe!
By the Professor aka +Cat Chronicles
Follow me on Twitter @Cat_Chronicles
We've seen the Carolina Panthers get off to a good 0-2 start, but ole Riverboat Ron had patented slow starts long ago, and let's face it. This time last year, we were 1-3, so things aren't quite so bad as they may seem in some ways.
What's going well? Right now, that's a short answer-type question. Cam Newton, despite being banged up and hobbled with a lingering ankle issue, has been nothing short of spectacular considering everything going on.
He hasn't been healthy and he's not getting protected by his offensive line. He has still managed to improve on his play from last year, and his being hobbled could be a blessing in disguise as it will force him to learn to be a better pocket passer.
Then there's rookie phenom Kelvin Benjamin, whom we're all familiar with and hopefully as high on as I am.
I'll be honest....I always am in my writing, but specifically here. I didn't like the pick when it was made for two reasons: Kelvin was a redshirt sophomore coming out of FSU and hence I figured he'd take a year or two to develop his potential.
What I didn't realize is the vast potential he apparently has. If he's only going to get better in the rest of the season and next, the sky really is the limit for this kid.
The other reason I didn't like his selection was his propensity to drop easy passes in college.
It looks like receivers' coach Ricky Proehl has coached a lot of that out of him. Dropped passes are almost always an issue of focusing. The NFL is so bang-bang that a split-second makes a difference, and I can see how tempting it is when an open receiver wants to take a peek upfield as the ball arrives for a catch. You HAVE to watch the ball into your hands, THEN turn and look - not the other way around, or passes get dropped.
All WRs will have a drop here or there; that's just how it is. Kelvin hasn't seemed to drop any more than any other given receiver and has actually emerged as the team's #1 receiver. That's frankly unheard of in the NFL these days.
Thankfully, TE Greg Olsen has been the steady hand on offense and made some very nice plays the first month. Against Baltimore last week, he showed he still has a nice burst on that catch he made at the 15 or so and turned up the sideline to run in for a score, so that was encouraging.
The thing is, if we could get healthy on offense, especially with the running backs, the Panthers ARE built to be a power running team that plays tough defense. Yes, the D hasn't played well at all the last two weeks, but the talent is there and they've shown their capabilities so hopefully it's something that can be fixed. If it can be, a healthy offense could be more potent than last year's but the lack of pass-blocking talent at the tackle position has to be considered when forming their game plans. Adjustments need to be made, but I think things can be turned around....but we don't have the luxury of much time.
Now for the bad. This is a long list, I'm afraid.
Number one, the offensive line really IS offensive, and the warnings I issued before the season started (and got creamed by fans for pointing out) are splayed wide open. I said the o-line is like a tiny college basketball team - they start a center and four guards.
I stick to that statement. I knew the line was in trouble when Dave Gettleman tried to sell all us fans a horrible bill of goods about the situation at tackle when Rivera had to move Byron Bell from the right side to the left, while Gettleman said "Sometimes the answer is right there on your roster."
As I've also said before, as far as that statement goes, it's true enough. Where the lie starts is one of omission - what he didn't say: "and sometimes the answer is NOT on your roster."
That is very much the case in Charlotte.
To his credit, Gettleman didn't reach for a tackle with the top pick or with ANY pick for that matter. I saw the "top-tier" offensive tackles were gone, and even at the bottom of the first round, you don't draft a second-tier guy. You find a top-tier guy at a position of need and draft him, or simply draft the "best player available" which Gettleman subscribes to, and fully explains the Kony Ealy pick in the second round.
At any rate, the OT position wasn't addressed at all when Jordan Gross retired, and we're paying for it now. My nickname for Byron Bell for some time now has been "the Turnstile." Byron "The Turnstile" Bell has earned that nickname by often letting pass rushers get by him without him hardly even touching them.
You see, there's a difference between tackles and guards in the NFL. Guards, for lack of a better descriptor right now, are kinda "square" guys. Byron Bell is built like a typical NFL tackle. He's got SOME height at 6' 4", but he's 340+ pounds.
That's a guard.
Usually, offensive tackles are a bit taller and leaner than Bell is. It's not uncommon to have a left tackle that's 6'5" to 6'7" and hits the scales at about 310-315 pounds....taller and leaner than Bell.
They're almost always guys with much quicker feet than those of Bell, or RT Nate Chandler for that matter.
Neither is a starting-quality offensive tackle. Both went undrafted out of college, and Chandler started his NFL career as a defensive tackle. So we have Bell playing WAY out of position and Chandler just really learning the right tackle position.
And we're well into the season. Ouch.
Since the tackle position went completely un-addressed, the only way anything can be done about it this season is via a trade with another team. Perhaps Greg Hardy could be bundled with a middle-round pick for a good tackle, but Hardy's trade stock is at an all-time low at the moment because of his own legal issues connected to the Ray Rice domestic violence issue. We don't even know if Hardy will ever play another NFL down, AND he's playing under the franchise tag. I don't see another team clamoring for his $11 million+ salary this season and having to try to sign him after the season is over, nor do I see him contributing much this year.
The other two ways to address it are via free agency next season and then the draft in the spring. To fix this, Gettleman likely would have to pick up a decent guy in free agency as well as adding a rookie to the roster in the draft.
What about the defense?
The defense has looked atrocious in both losses. Granted, Le'Veon Bell may be a top-five RB in the NFL these days, but teammate Legarrette Blount is not. Both hit us up for over 100 yards, and last week in the Blood and Guts Bowl, our old WR reject, Steve Smith, completely torched us for well over 100 yards and 2 TDs....even if that first "tip drill" TD made me think I was watching last season's Auburn/Georgia game.
Luke Kuechly isn't playing like the Defensive Player of the Year he was last year and has already played himself OUT of ANY consideration to repeat that honor this year. I saw too many players out of position on any given play as well.
Part of this is the "rent-a-defensive back" strategy we've seen from Gettleman the past two seasons. We're taking on rejects from divisional defenses that weren't any good at the time they were let go....Thomas DeCoud from Atlanta and Roman Harper from New Orleans, to be precise. While DeCoud has played fairly consistently (if unspectacular in doing so), Harper has been in the wrong place way too much.
The defensive line isn't putting pressure on the opponent like it has in the past, either. This isn't just because of no Greg Hardy; one thing the team does have is depth at the DE spot. It's NOBODY is playing up to last year's bar, which I acknowledge was set quite high, but the entire front-seven returned from last year's second-ranked unit, save Hardy and his situation.
Without getting deeper into the specifics as this post is already quite lengthy, the line isn't pressuring the QB or disrupting the backfield. The secondary isn't covering consistently well and is playing out of position on a lot of running plays. The linebackers are the same way...even Kuechly hit the wrong hole on that long gain by Le'Veon Bell the previous week.
Harper was WAY out of position against Tampa Bay when their fullback went 54 yards on a quick-opener running play. The list goes on and on. And on. And on. I haven't even mentioned our entire backfield is injured, either.
In fact, as per The Charlotte Observer, Ron Rivera said he counted 14 plays against the Ravens where at least two defenders were out of position. Apparently the vaunted front-seven isn't immune to falling back to Earth as well.
Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott needs to come up with some fixes and fast. The team is in the bottom-five in stopping 3rd down conversions and that was a strength last year. You name it, we're worse in that defensive category than last year. WAY worse.
But why is all this happening? The offensive woes could be explained with personnel issues and with injuries to the backfield including Cam. As well as Cam's playing under bad circumstances, just think how electrifying the 2013 version would be, and he continues to get punished as Ron Rivera took him out of the game two consecutive weeks to "protect" him. That's never a good thing.
It's the defense that makes me wonder. Yes, the secondary is largely made up of 1-year rentals but so was last year's. No corners seem to want to step forward yet to claim the #1 spot, but rookie Bene Benwikere (whom I call "The Fed Chief" and Al Michaels referred to him the same way on Sunday Night Football) could work himself up that ladder as he's the most talented and instinctive CB we have, and has locked down the nickel spot for now.
It still doesn't explain why Kuechly has seemingly regressed somewhat as his own instincts have seemed to fail him on a number of occasions this year, but he's not the only person not playing up to par.
In fact, on defense, I can't think of anyone that IS!
Hang in there, gang. Looks like it could be a long year unless the defense can begin keeping us in games. We have the talent, but can the coaches pull things together?
All we can do is watch, root for the team, and time will tell on that one.
Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye
Three Things the Carolina Panthers Did Well
This week it was very hard to figure out what the Carolina Panthers did well. The way the Panthers played on both sides of the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers was embarrassing. This was the one game I had no doubt that we were going to win. Panther Nation is speechless after this loss and embarrassed. I had to turn into Sherlock Holmes just to find the answers to what three things the Panthers did well.
So what did Sherlock Homes come up with?
1. Attitude – Cam Newton took a beating in the pocket all night. Every time he stepped back to make a throw, he was getting hit by someone on the Steelers. Newton was sacked three times and was hit six times. But he got up every time, stayed in the pocket and tried to make the play. Newton reminded me of the lyrics from a song by Chumbawama called “Get Knocked Down.” This is my version… “Cam Newton got knocked down, but he got up again, and you’re never going to keep him down!”
2. “Megatron Jr.” – Kelvin Benjamin continues to impress NFL defenses and fantasy football team owners with his catching ability. He finished the game with eight catches for 115 yards and one touchdown. Newton needs to throw the ball his way a lot more. Benjamin is reliable and can’t be covered one-on-one.
3. “The Leg” – Brad Nortman has one of the strongest legs in the NFL and he showed it Sunday night. He punted the ball a career-high 65 yards and averaged 52.5 yards per punt. His punting pinned the Steelers further back in their zone, but it didn’t matter because the Panthers defense took the night off. Nortman will play a key part in the success of the Panthers special teams as the season goes on.
By +Justin Raymond
Follow me on Twitter @JayRay19
Three Things the Panthers Did Poorly
There are games that are just not meant to be won. Games where you come out and no matter how hard the effort you put forth, it is just not going to be enough. This was the case on Sunday night, Carolina was not going to win this game. As hard as they fought, with all their concentrated effort, this game was determined before it played out on the field.
There were many things the Panthers did not do well in this matchup. There were all kinds of mistakes made by players and coaching staff. But here we will select three of the most significant failures against the Steelers.
1. The lack of running plays called: I don't know exactly the reasoning for this, but I have said since before training camp began: the success of this season will be predicated on establishing an effective run game. Having an effective run game puts less emphasis on a weak pass blocking offensive line. Shula needs to really make a commitment and run the ball. Even if the running game is not totally effective it will be something for the defense to think about and cause the front seven to have to consider something other than getting to Cam Newton. A real running game will alleviate the pressure off Cam and give the offensive line a chance to win some of those battles. Taking the pressure off Cam will equal a better Cam and in turn a better Carolina Panthers team,
2. Offensive Line- The offensive line certainly did play their worst game of the season. All of them across the board play very poorly. Even all pro center Ryan Kalil looked lost and confused. I know part of this is because the Panthers offensive line is young and has not played against the exotic blitzes and unique schemes created by the mind of Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. This defense confused and confounded the Panthers and they were never able to get on track. A running game I think would have helped both the offense and the defense. But we will see if Mike Shula sees the error of his ways and can make a running attack part of our game plan.
3. Defense- Never did I think the entire defense would make this list. But that is just the case after this game. The Steelers came out and basically had their way with this highly ranked Panthers defense. Big Ben and the offense seemed only slightly impaired by The Panthers. Giving up 37 points, 100 yards rushing to TWO (2) different running backs Bell and Blount, and 10 receptions to Antonio Brown. Now these are all good players for sure, but we made the look like hall of famers. It was embarrassing watching failure after failure by our defensive unit. The pressure really was not there by the front seven and Big Ben was able to pick apart the shaky Panthers secondary. After 2 games of looking so good, I believe Panthers fans had come to believe this team was better as a whole than the individual talents that had been assembled by management. After this game Panthers fans have some real evaluating to do.
Was this game an anomaly or is the Panthers team we have to look forward to for the rest of the season? I don't know the answer to that but I do know we won't have long until we find out. The schedule is getting ready to enter the toughest part and it will be a trial by fire for the next several games. I only hope the team we saw in weeks 1 and 2 are the real Panthers, because the team that played Sunday night against Pittsburgh is not even a .500 team.
By +Joe Riollano
Follow that Freak'n Puerto Rican @JoeRiollano
The battle between the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers turned out to be a nail bitter. But, the final score does not represent how well the Carolina Panthers actually played. A lot of the fans and media doubted the Panthers because of the injury to Cam Newton. There is no need to worry though because the defense was phenomenal, and Derek Anderson led the Panthers to a victory! The Panthers played a good game overall, but what three things did they do really well?
2. Making Josh McCown’s Mother Cry – Josh McCown was on his back all game and probably wasn’t feeling good as he was soaking in his ice bath after the game. The Carolina Panthers kept pressure on him all day and McCown paid for that. The Panthers registered three sacks, and had seven QB hits. The pressure resulted in two interceptions and McCown only had a QBR Rating of 21.7.
3. Kelvin Benjamin Can Catch – I tell you what this guy has a bright future in the NFL! His gloves are like a big white side of the barn, because they can’t be missed. Benjamin was targeted eight times and had six receptions for 92 yards, and a touchdown. Benjamin and Greg Olsen gave the Buccaneers secondary trouble all night.
I know I talked about the front seven in two out of three things, but who wouldn’t brag about this? Good luck Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions, you better get that ball out of your hands quickly!
By +Justin Raymond
Follow me on Twitter @JayRay19
The Carolina Panthers walked into Raymond James Stadium and took the best shot Tampa could muster. The Panthers did not even flinch. Carolina relied on a back up quarterback and a nasty defense to escape Pirate Island with a win. But with as good as this win was, there are still some things we need to take a closer look at.
Three things Carolina must improve:
1. To no ones surprise, the secondary needs a lot of help. When McCown had time, he picked apart the Panthers. For much of the second half the Bucs were able to move down the field through the air and score. That could possibly be attributed to fatigue on the part of the defensive front of Carolina. Both teams were looking pretty gassed out there. I have heard the on field temp hovered around 110 degrees with very high humidity. Secondary still needs improvement. Nothing we haven't known.
2. To my surprise, the Bucs ran well as a unit against the usually run stuffing Carolina defense. The Panthers gave up 102 yards rushing to Tampa. This is something we cannot do as the season progresses. I think the defense will get it together and once again become the run stuffing machine we all are familiar with.
3. The third area where we need to improve on is getting the opposing offense off the field after third down. The Bucs were 6 of 12 on third down conversions, 50% is too high. If we do that with any of the teams in the upcoming part of our schedule we will likely be on the losing end of that game.
This was a good win for Carolina. We now have some momentum and can build off this win.
By +Joe Riollano aka "that Freak'in Puerto Rican"
Follow me on Twitter @JoeRiollano
The Carolina Panthers swept the season series in 2013 with a 31-13 victory in Tampa Bay on October 13th, and a 27-6 win at home on December 1st. The Buccaneers
were a team that struggled last season with a rookie quarterback and had several injuries.
This season is going to be a lot different due to a number of changes for both teams. The biggest change for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is their new Head Coach Lovie Smith. Coach Smith will give the Buccaneers a fresh start and a different style from Greg Schiano. Lovie is more relaxed, player friendly and is defensive minded. They also drafted Johnny Football’s favorite target Mike Evans, who has a lot of potential.
The Carolina Panthers had some big changes as well with the new receiving core and the new defensive backs. The wide receivers on the 53-man roster consist of Kelvin Benjamin, Jason Avant, Jerricho Cotchery, Brenton Bersin, and Corey Brown. On the defensive side of the ball, Thomas DeCoud, Antoine Cason, and Roman Harper were all added this season to help improve the weak deep passing defense that was taken advantage of last season.
So the question is…. How will the Panthers defensive backs matchup with the Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson?
According to the depth chart, Melvin White and Antoine Cason are going to be starting for the Carolina Panthers at the cornerback position. This means that they will be battling with Evans and Jackson all game. Evans and Jackson are both big and physical receivers so the coverage is going to have to be tight. They can’t let the Buccaneers receivers use their bodies to out muscle them when going up for the ball. White, Cason and the Panthers safeties are going to be providing a “no quarter” kind of coverage all game! This will be a good test for our secondary.
My final score prediction: 28-14 ……… of course the Panthers WIN!
What do you think will be the final score of this matchup?
Follow +Justin Raymond on Twitter
Being a huge fan doesn’t mean you have to be a Homer. I’m not drafting all Panthers in our Fantasy League, which Drafts Thursday night. And though I know we can win any game and I pray that we will, I don’t pick us to go 16-0 every year. Below are my honest and objective thoughts on what could go right and what could go wrong in the upcoming year. Opening-Day in the NFL is like Christmas morning for me. The night before the first game, I cannot sleep as I will be thinking about the “what-ifs.” My wife may even roll over to snuggle and I’ll be thinking about the Cam-to-Kelvin Connection. So what do I think the 2014 season holds for in store for Panther Nation?
Jonathan Stewart being healthy is an immediate upgrade to our backfield and will change the dynamics of our team. We saw that in the pre-season as well. He is just a step better than DeAngelo at this point in their careers. Kelvin Benjamin is another thing that could go right. I guarantee that if healthy, he will catch more yards and TDs than the 2013 Steve Smith did. Another thing that could go right is our D-line could be even better than a year ago. KK and “Stah” stand to make the same type of meteoric jump in year two that Kris Jenkins did for Carolina back in the day. And probably the most important thing that could go right for Carolina is Cam simply being Cam. Let’s face it, we will go as far as he takes us. If he quickens his release time just a bit, gets the protection that he needs, and can be mobile enough to make a few plays with his feet on 3rd down, we will be just fine. In fact, who can beat that?
So at the end of the day, I don’t know what is going to happen, but isn’t that what makes football the greatest game in the world? The possibilities. I’m going to go out and say we start slow and then pick up steam and finish 10-6. What say you? Tweet out your prediction for the upcoming season. Am I a Homer or a Hater for predicting 10-6?
Links to different formats...same awesome podcast!!!
Charles Johnson Stats:
Greg Hardy Stats:
— charles johnson (@randywattson) May 13, 2014
“Backyard Baller” and NC State college standout shined alongside Phillip Rivers between 2000 and 2003. Amassing 200 catches for a whopping 3,119 yds, Cotchery ranks 2nd all-time in Wolfpack history only to Tory Holt.
|1||2003-08-30||North Carolina State||Western Carolina||W||5||62||12.4||1|
|2||2003-09-06||North Carolina State||Wake Forest||L||9||173||19.2||1|
|3||2003-09-13||North Carolina State||Ohio State||L||4||44||11.0||2|
|4||2003-09-20||North Carolina State||Texas Tech||W||3||56||18.7||0|
|5||2003-09-27||North Carolina State||North Carolina||W||9||217||24.1||1|
|6||2003-10-04||North Carolina State||Georgia Tech||L||5||71||14.2||1|
|7||2003-10-11||North Carolina State||Connecticut||W||4||55||13.8||0|
|8||2003-10-16||North Carolina State||Clemson||W||2||55||27.5||0|
|9||2003-10-25||North Carolina State||Duke||W||9||117||13.0||0|
|10||2003-11-01||North Carolina State||Virginia||W||7||111||15.9||1|
|11||2003-11-15||North Carolina State||Florida State||L||10||135||13.5||2|
|12||2003-11-22||North Carolina State||Maryland||L||6||102||17.0||0|
|13||2003-12-22||North Carolina State||Kansas||W||13||171||13.2||1|
The Pittsburgh Renaissance:
What we got:
Cotchery has been a quiet presence in the NFL. He was the quiet, productive guy that wasn't ever a star, but never fully appreciated either. Cotchery's best opportunity to impose himself as a #1 receiver came in a time when the Jets' offense struggled to find an identity. When the Jets did finally found success under Rex Ryan, the offense was never the primary reason driver. It was a tough nailed defense that backed a ground and pound offense. What should have been his best years were undermined by inconsistent quarterback play and playing for teams that never manufactured consistent offensive production. In some ways, there are a lot of similarities to former Panther Steve Smith's years in Carolina between 2008 and 20011. The teams they played hampered their on field production more than their ability. I mean if Smith had been a Colt in between '08 and '11, he'd be a first ballot Hall of Famer for sure.
There are two things that make me happy about this pick-up: 1) my man Cotchery has hands. He catches everything in the same zip code. 2) the luckiest person I have ever known (who will remain anonymous), always picked Cotchery as a third receiving option on his fantasy football team. The quiet producer helped him win a fantasy football championship or two!!!
Cotchery never really had the best opportunity to assert himself as a #1 receiver. He looks to have found his shot in Carolina, however, where there aren't any established receivers ahead of him in the depth chart. Even if the Panthers grab a receiver in the first round, it's unlikely this player would assert himself as a leader among the receiving core. The addition would need to transition from a #2 option to a #1 option throughout the year. Cotchery will have a chance during this time to step into that leadership role. Let' just hope he can continue the renaissance that he started in Pittsburgh last year in the Queen city.
It wasn’t long ago that most thought Rivera was a chump. The “Fire Rivera” groups were loud and hard to discredit after the 1-3 2013 start. It was Rivera’s third dismal season start as a head coach. Fan writers argued over who spotted Rivera as a degenerate first. This wasn’t just fan outrage alone, however. Rivera had a legitimate problem. Steve Smith indicated after the Arizona loss that they “were at a crossroads” and that “it was make or break for the players—and for the coaches.” Ironically, at the time Smith seemed the one person that could say something like this without fear that he was one of those players at the crossroads.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 6, 2013
Rivera had always “played it by the book.” Of ’85 Bear pedigree, Rivera wanted to hunker down on defense and, as Scot Fowler put, “when in doubt, punt.” One fan yawned with dissatisfaction:
Panthers vs Giants game, Giants win 7-0 off a blocked punt in the 4th quarter after Ron Rivera decides to punt on a 2nd and 3
— jermajesty jackson (@iSee_Sounds) September 20, 2013
Rivera played the numbers tight and by the book, but for some reason he still found himself always on the wrong side of the bet. It just seemed as if Rivera's Panthers were never willing to pull the trigger. There was always a little hesitancy in truly gambling. His dismal record of 2-13 record in games 7 or less points showed playing the book doesn't guarantee success.
Rivera was going to have to start gambling. The conservative coach played it loose, converting 10-13 4 downs in 2013. The Observer’s Scott Fowler described going for it on 4th down as Rivera’s new “religion.” Many tried to say that Rivera was staying true to his statistical dogma. They were never just risks, but always carefully calculated decisions. The moves though were inherently risky. He started to see that gambling, well, requires gambling! Riverboat Ron started pushing the chips in at the right time. The fact that failure was imminent if he didn't put it all on the line seemed to ease the fear of failure that had made risk adverse in the first place.
There is no play last season that represented this more than Rivera's decision to punt with 2:04 left and down by 3. On the face, it seems like conservative Ron was back, looking to rely on his defense and hopefully push the game to OT with a late drive for a field goal. This call was gutsy. It was risky. It was a gamble, and it paid dividends. Rivera looked like a hard nosed Vegas pro that didn't shy away from high stakes when the Panthers pulled out the long shot win in the closing seconds. Riverboat Ron was at the table and he still had the hot hand!
The thought that Rivera's bags were packed and at the door seems so foreign now. The hot-streak was exhilarating. An NFC Championship, secured by the forging of a premiere defense, has given fans a taste of success that desperately needed. Winning medicated the fan's pain and Rivera's headaches in Carolina.
Was this enough though to classify Rivera as a champ though?
Rivera’s return from the precipice shouldn't erase memories of his near death experience. Winning does cure all. It has for Rivera, temporarily anyway. Losing, however, can just as easily revitalize the belief that he is a chump.
In the end, it will be Rivera’s return to the table that defines whether he is a "chump" or "champ."
Tory Holt recently stated that he was concerned with the state of the Panthers' offense on the David Glenn show. He noted that the offensive roster has taken clear steps backwards. This is especially disconcerting because Carolina’s offense was anemic last year. How much worse could it really get? Rivera will be forced to make some tough calls next year. He may find himself with this back to the wall more times than he would like because of that step backward observed by Holt.
We’ll see if Riverboat Ron responds to the expectations created by 2013’s success with instinctual confidence or a fear of failure. If Rivera continues to play it aggressive and go with his gut, he may just beat back the odds with a defense that allows him to gamble when opportune. If he finds himself at the table and fearful to make the risky call when it’s all on the line, he will end up being more chump than champ.
I think Rivera can do it. He’s got the cool demeanor, a grittiness that comes with any 85 bear, and a gutsy enough resolve that suggests he can find continued success in Carolina. He was criticized mercilessly prior to last year's turn around. He's been honest that the pressure was high, but he's remained calm and confident throughout, reassuringly stating "I'm a good football coach. I know that somewhere along the line, if I get things in my favor, I think I can be successful. That's sort of what's happening now. You've got to be patient."
We’ll just have to wait and see if he embraces the inherent uncertainty and risk that comes with any game of chance. As long as Riverboat Ron remains willing to push the chips all in, he’ll prove his is no chump.