The Carolina Panthers managed to lose yet another winnable game yesterday. Once again, this loss falls entirely on the coaching staff and their play-calling. Actually, it really comes down to one play.
The score was 21-13 Carolina. The Panthers had the ball with a little over a minute and a half left on the clock. Tampa Bay had no timeouts left. The Panthers were on Buccaneers' side of the field, 4th-and-1 after Cam Newton was unable to get the first down.
Did this at all remind anyone of the Panthers' game against the Falcons? Well it definitely reminded me of that game.
Instead of electing to go for it on 4th-and-short, Ron Rivera decided to punt the ball and put it in the defense’s hands to win the game. Just like that game against Atlanta, Rivera made the wrong call.
Not many people would’ve thought a team like the Buccaneers would be able to drive the ball across the field after a solid punt by Brad Nortman. But after a costly penalty by Thomas Davis, the Buccaneers gained 30 yards on one play and were already getting quite close to the red zone.
Vincent Jackson, the Buccaneers’ new wealthy and All-Star receiver, came through for his team by not only scoring the touchdown, but also making the catch that gave his team the much-needed two-point conversion to tie up the game 21-21.
At that point, all Tampa Bay needed to do was win the coin toss, considering it had all the momentum after that amazing drive to tie the game in regulation. It only took a few plays, but sure enough, Tampa Bay left Bank of America stadium with another win against the Panthers, and now the Panthers are 2-8.
I understand that Rivera was playing it safe. When asked about not going for it on 4th-and-1 against Atlanta, Rivera stated in his press conference (on panthers.com) that he had no doubts about the call and that if given the opportunity to make that same call again, he would do it.
Sure enough, the Panthers were 4th-and-short against the Buccaneers yesterday and Rivera stayed true to his word and the Panthers lost the game.
This play-calling is not making sense anymore. At this point of the season, the Panthers really have nothing to lose. They have been out of the playoff race for at least a couple weeks now. Sure, you can say that these players are playing for their job, and that even includes the coaching staff.
But at 2-8, the Panthers need to stop playing like they are scared of losing. This type of playing is exactly what’ll inevitably cost Rivera and his coaching staff their jobs at the end of the season.
Good teams find a way a win; this is a common saying in the NFL. And even though you can argue that the Panthers were only a score away (in most of their losses), their inability to finish games is what will cost Rivera and staff their jobs. With the offense the Panthers have, they should be able to get a 4th-and-short and win a game. Their unwillingness to even consider going for it in that situation is simply frustrating.
In my opinion, if we learned anything from yesterday, it’s the unfortunate reality that Rivera will not be a Panther next season.