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Panthers And Rivera Lose Another Close One

September 19, 2013

It is becoming madness. Madness in how the Carolina Panthers lose close game after close game. They did it again last week at Buffalo as the Bills culminated an 80 yard drive with a short touchdown pass with two seconds left on the clock to pull out a 24-23 victory over the Panthers.  

What is maddening is that the Panthers usually always have a late lead and Rivera then coaches not to lose instead of coaching to close the game out. Sunday was another prime example of something we have seen before.  

After passing on an opportunity to convert a fourth-and-1 to beat the Atlanta Falcons last year, a move that ended up turning a near-certain win into a loss, Rivera faced the same situation Sunday and chose the most conservative option available despite how effective his team is on short yardage downs. It is as if he refuses to recognize his team’s strengths.  

To review: Rivera passed up another fourth-and-1 game-clincher to put his defense in a situation where it needed to produce a stop to win. With 1:42 left, the Panthers were up three on the Bills, who were out of timeouts. Carolina was facing a fourth-and-1 on Buffalo’s 21-yard line with two clear options. The aggressive choice was to go for it, a move that would have allowed the Panthers to kneel three times and end the game, with the downside of allowing the Bills to tie the game if they stuffed the Panthers and drove for a field goal (or lose if the Bills scored a touchdown). The conservative option was to kick a field goal and force the Bills to drive down the field and score a touchdown, at which point they would win the game.  

Let me throw some numbers at you. Did you know that the Panthers are a very successful team in short yardage? One has to wonder if Rivera knows.

Panthers & Coach Rivera swear allegiance before loss to the Bills

 Since he took over and the Panthers drafted Cam Newton first overall, Carolina has run the ball on third-and-1 or fourth-and-1 a total of 43 times. It has converted 35 of those runs for first downs or touchdowns. That works out to just over 81%. Newton’s numbers (16 of 18) are even better when he carries the ball. And yet, Rivera turned down another opportunity to use that strength to seal a victory. 

And don’t get me going on how conservative the play calling was on the three prior plays that led to the fourth-and-1 decision. Do not even tell me that off tackle right, off tackle left, and a run up the middle on third down equals creativity when all is needed to win a game is a single first down.  

Rivera turned to his defense and, yet again, it failed him. It is widely known the Panthers weakness is their defensive secondary. This weakness is magnified when the other team is trying to throw the ball to make plays downfield on every single snap. And sure enough, the secondary failed Carolina when it needed it most on Sunday.  

The Panthers had already lost two starters in the defensive backfield during the game, with safety Charles Godfrey suffering a likely season-ending achilles injury and cornerback Josh Thomas going out with a concussion. That left backups in their places, and that inexperience showed up with a blown coverage on the game-winning touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson. 

Decision making by Rivera late in games is becoming a trend and a problem. That’s an essential part of the job, and it’s Rivera’s biggest failing as a head coach. It’s also the biggest reason why Carolina has an awful record in close games. The Panthers are now 2-14 in games decided by seven points or fewer under Rivera. That percentage is a number of historical proportions. Rivera fans might state that is bad luck, but I would counter by saying a fair amount of it is Rivera putting his team in situations to lose.  
College Football Review  

The game between Alabama and Texas A&M lived up to all expectations and became an instant classic.  

Top-rated Alabama ventured into Texas and escaped with a 49-42 win over the Aggies. In a game where a majority of college football fans hoped A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel would be humbled by the Crimson Tide’s defense (me included), Manziel went off. The sophomore set a school record for passing yards (464). He had 562 yards of total offense and the Aggies finished with 628 yards of offense, the most ever allowed by an Alabama defense.  

The Crimson Tide threw out some offense of their own as they shot out to a 35-14 lead before Manziel threw four of his five touchdown passes in the last 25 minutes of the game to make it close.  

UCLA football may be back as the Bruins remained unbeaten after routing Nebraska, 41-21. If you watched this one, you saw UCLA score the game’s last 38 points after the host Cornhuskers opened up a quick 21-3 lead midway through the second quarter. Remember when Nebraska was known for its defense? Not anymore. The Cornhusters have now allowed an average of 40 points over their prior five games dating back to last season’s Big Ten championship game.  

Michigan almost suffered another embarrasing loss at home. The 11th-ranked Wolverines held on to beat Akron, a school with a 27-game FBS road losing streak. Akron had a first and goal from inside the five-yard line in the final seconds before failing to convert a potential game-winning touchdown from the 4-yard line with five seconds to go,

Former Tar Heel coach Mack Brown is struggling down in Texas and his days may be numbered as the Longhorns’ head man. Yes, he won a national title in 2005 but the program has been going downhill ever since. Saturday night’s 44-23 loss to Ole Miss, coming on the heels of a 41-30 loss to BYU may simply be too much for Brown to overcome. The home folk can’t be too happy with the fact that Texas is just 11-10 in its past 21 home games. And you know they are not thrilled with the fact that the Longhorns have lost seven straight games to ranked opponents.



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