For an NFL kicker, the cameras, reporters and notepads don’t tend to appear unless one of two things happen: you kick a game-winning field goal or you screw up. Sunday night at Bank of America Stadium, the media gathered around Olindo Mare’s locker while he dressed. It was time to face the questions -- he screwed up.
"Obviously I didn’t do my job," Mare said quietly. "It’s difficult when your team puts you in a position to succeed and do everything they can to win a game and you don’t come through."
But to pin the Carolina Panthers’ heart-wrenching loss on Mare’s right foot would be short-sighted.
Should he have made the 31-yard field goal? Sure. But it never should have come down to that relatively short kick.
"Whoever thinks this game came down to the last possession is a fool," Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said. "Yeah, he missed a field goal, but go back in the third quarter and look at the drives. We had our opportunities. I’ll be damned if someone just sits up there and puts the pressure on one particular person where it was a collective loss."
Ok, let’s go back to that third quarter. After the Panthers opened the second half with a touchdown drive, the offense shut down. Three straight three-and-outs equaled a first down drought that extended to almost a full hour. Suddenly, it was 2010 again.
"Three and out is unacceptable, and if you expect to win games and you’re going three and out and you call yourself a high-powered offense, that’s not it," Newton said.
While the Panthers offense sputtered for most of the second half, at least they didn’t put points on a platter for the Minnesota Vikings. Nope, Carolina played the role of generous host in the first half.
Newton came into his eighth game as a pro with zero fumbles lost. In the first two quarters Sunday, he lost two fumbles after being hit from his blindside. Those two turnovers directly led to 14 Minnesota points.
"Then early in the game we did the same thing with the sack fumble. It seems with every game we’ve lost we find ways to make it really easy on the other team."
But despite those three-and-outs and turnovers, the Panthers had a chance late in the fourth quarter. They had a chance to not just go to overtime, but to win the game.
With 50 seconds left and the Panthers facing a third and three, Newton ran right, picked up six yards, leaped and landed without his helmet. It would have been a first and goal at the Vikings 8-yard line. It would have been if not for a yellow flag.
Steve Smith was called for holding, turning a first and goal into a third and seven. While he pled his innocence with the refs, the replay showed Smith putting a bear hug on Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway.
Not surprisingly, that’s not the way Panthers head coach Ron Rivera saw it:
"They tell them as long as his hands are inside, they are inside. That’s what I saw. But I’m not the one on the field making the decision, so we just go with it."
When he was asked about the call, Smith played nice at first:
"The ref said it was holding, so it was holding."
But ultimately, the Panthers mercurial receiver couldn’t completely hold his tongue:
"For a 70-year-old man gimping down the field, I guess that’s what (the ref) saw."
The truth is, the Panthers didn’t lose because of a "gimping" ref or Mare’s left hook. This was more about a young team that continues to make piles of mistakes. That’s the theme of the first half of the 2011 season.
The Panthers are most likely better than their 2-6 record indicates, but as someone around here used to say, "It is what it is."
"You look at our record and it says a lot. I don’t classify us as a good team," Newton said. "Actions speak way louder than words."