When the chips are down, the best NFL teams find ways to win. They convert third downs when they have to. They make big stops on defense. They sustain drives late and protect a lead.
The Carolina Panthers do none of those things.
Because they are losers.
This was evident in Sunday's 19-14 home loss to the Dallas Cowboys – and has been all season. Yes, Ron Winter and his crew made some questionable calls and no calls, including sitting on their hands on an obvious fourth-down pass interference call on the potential game-winning drive.
But you'd be foolish to point the finger at the referees and blame them for the loss.
Flags or no flags, the Panthers, once again, had plenty of opportunities to win, and, once again, fell flat on their face.
When I think about this loss, I won't think about the blown calls or the box score. I'll think about how the team choked away another game down the stretch by failing to make plays when it counts the most.
After the Panthers took a 14-13 lead on a Mike Tolbert 2-yard touchdown run at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the defense forced a Cowboys punt. With 8:54 left, Cam Newton and the offense trotted on the field with a chance to engineer a long drive, drain the clock, keep Tony Romo on the sidelines and put the team in a great position to win the game.
But as we all know, that's not what happened.
Instead, the offense went three-and-out and gave the ball right back to Dallas. Romo ultimately drove his team down the field and the Cowboys kicked the go-ahead field goal with less than four minutes left.
That is losing football. All of this season – and most of last season – the Panthers have failed to make winning plays at crucial points in the game.
That's fall squarely on the shoulders of head coach Ron Rivera and his staff.
Consider this: Since Rivera took over last season, the Panthers have lost 10 of 13 games decided by eight points or less.
The Panthers aren't getting blown out by opponents. They are talented enough to win plenty of games.
But they are underachieving because there is losing culture in Carolina, which really began with the 2-14 season in 2010 – the year before Rivera arrived.
Instead of putting out the fire, though, Rivera fanned the flames.
Week after week, he fails to recognize key points in the game, fails to make necessary in-game adjustments, and, ultimately, fails to put the team in position to win. Worst of all, he seems to have no idea what the strengths and weaknesses of his team are. Along with offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski – who also deserves some blame – he fails to devise game plans that complement his players' skill sets, exploit the opponent's weaknesses and maximize the talent on the roster.
Not to mention, the Panthers are 0-2 coming off the bye week under Rivera. In addition to the 19-14 loss to Dallas this season, the Panthers were trounced 30-3 by the Titans following last season's open date.
The bottom line: Ron Rivera, unlike all successful NFL head coaches, fails to give his team an edge.
It's costing the Panthers games, and it cost general manager Marty Hurney his job on Monday.
But don't worry Marty.
You'll have plenty of company in the unemployment line at the end of the season.
Be sure to check out other great articles at Sports Media 101.
Delivered to your inbox
|Latest Rumors||Best of Yardbarker|
Today's Best Stuff
Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.
What is Yardbarker?