Dave Gettleman has a decision to make. The Panthers’ general manager is staring down the barrel of another lost season now that his team is 0-2 following a 24-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Carolina has now dropped two games by a grand total of six points.
It is a case of a glass half-empty or half-full depending on how one looks at it because a touchdown here or a field goal there would make all the difference in the world, however, there are no more adjectives left to describe one close loss after another.
Since taking over as head coach, Ron Rivera is now 2-14 in games decided by seven points or less, a remarkable statistic for any head coach in any era. How can a team be so close week after week and not find a way out of it?
That may be what Gettleman is thinking right now. Does he keep Rivera and hope he can do what he has been unable to do in 2011 and 2012 or move on without him before fans begin to avoid Bank of America Stadium like the plague once again?
Rivera is a good man and a good coach. He has to be thinking what he ever did to deserve this. There are many coordinators who finally get their shot at being a head coach and unless they are able to put something very positive on their résumé, few get a second chance. If Rivera is jettisoned it will not be because of his 13-21 record but rather the 2-14 although the former number will get the headline.
If you though The Turk was hiding in the shadows outside Rivera’s office last year before the Panthers ripped off five of their last six, he has already answered the call for a reprise. No one will see him until the phone rings and Dave Gettleman is on the other end.
There is an old saying that you don’t fire the players, you fire the coach. Rivera is in Gettleman’s sights right now, but can you put the onus squarely on his shoulders? Consider this.
Cam Newton is one of the most dynamic young quarterbacks in the league. He has set numerous NFL records for passing and rushing, being the youngest at this and youngest at that. He was all set to have what many viewed as his breakout season using his legs and arm to lead the Panthers to the Promised Land. But something happened on the way to the Super Bowl.
Mike Shula should know Newton better than anyone because they came to Carolina at the same time. Shula was the quarterbacks coach before getting the offensive coordinator gig this season while Newton was the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. Big things were expected like a winning record and a playoff push.
Everyone shrugged at a sluggish offense in the preseason. It was thought Shula’s great game planning would be unleashed on the NFL when the bell rang. So far, not so good. Just two games into the regular season Newton looks more like a game manager than a dual threat quarterback.
In the opener, Newton threw for a career low 125 yards and his follow-up has turned his thousand-watt smile upside-down. Twice in the second half the Panthers had superb field position after a pair of turnovers by Buffalo rookie QB E.J. Manuel. The resulting drives lacked any sort of imagination or purpose and each time they failed to punch one in settling for field goals, sandwiched around one for the Bills.
With 7:13 left in the game the Panthers needed to run out as much of the clock as possible and force Buffalo to burn their time-outs. The latter was accomplished, however, at the two minute warning and the ball at the Bills 30, Newton was asked to hand off three straight times without taking at least one shot at a touchdown which would have sealed the game.
Three runs, nine yards and a Graham Gano 39-yard field goal later, the Bills had 1:38 left to go 80 yards. It took eight plays including a devastating pass interference call against linebacker Luke Kuechly on an interception by safety Colin Jones before one final crushing blow.
Manuel dropped back and saw a wide open and uncovered Stevie Johnson in the corner of the end zone and the two yard completion knotted the game. The point after was the difference.
Had the Panthers held on for the win it would have gone down as one of the ugliest in years, but a win nonetheless. They did not and all that is left is to wonder what might have been. And Ron Rivera’s future might hang in the balance.
Should Dave Gettleman make the decision to let Rivera take the rest of the season off, he should not be alone. The GM owes that to Cam Newton.