The set up couldn’t have been better. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was returning to University of Phoenix Stadium where he had led his Auburn Tigers to their first national championship since 1953. It was also the stadium where Newton had thrown for 422 yards in his first ever NFL start. That game was a loss, but it announced Newton’s arrival into the league and with a bang. This time, Newton and Co. were trying to build on one of the franchises biggest victories margin wise and try to keep themselves in the playoff hunt. This game would also be a loss and one that leaves a mark.
Ron Rivera had preached during the bye week that the team was learning from its mistakes. The same mistakes that had kept the team from reaching its full potential. In a game where the offense couldn’t get out of its own way, the Panthers lost because they beat themselves and in the worse way. Newton alone committed four turnovers, three of those interceptions that couldn’t have come at worse times. Cam looked like the overwhelmed rookie he was not long ago. This is not to say that Newton was the only person to blame. He didn’t exactly get a lot of help from his receiving corps. The Carolina wide outs dropped four passes including a crucial drop in the end zone by the usually dependable veteran, Steve Smith and another drop by Brandon Lafell on fourth and 1 in the red zone.
Just like years past the Panthers are once again sitting at 1-3. It would be crazy to say the Cat’s are finished or that Rivera is finished for that matter, but it’s getting tougher and tougher to find bright spots in this team. Every time it seems like the team is turning the corner, they lay an egg. Sooner or later the blame has to lie at Rivera’s feet. I’m not usually one to point the finger at a coach, but when a team continually makes the same mistakes ad hominem, a coach becomes responsible for not correcting the issue or in this case issues.
This was evident in the Cardinals game. When the Cardinals started using some quick screens and rushing away from the Panthers dominant front line, the Carolina coaching staff failed to make adjustments. The same can be said for the offensive side of the ball. Newton was consistently under pressure and was sacked seven times yet offensive coordinator Mike Shula still dialed up long passing routes causing Cam to scramble for his life on occasion and even take a sack. Team leader and the face of the franchise Steve Smith told a throng of reporters after the game: “Blame the loss on me. I’m the scapegoat.” If it were only that easy.
For more Panthers news, rumors and opinion, visit our Carolina Panthers page