From QB To Head Coach, Rookie Mistakes Again Cost Panthers

Their quarterback is 22 years old and five games into his NFL career. The roster is again one of the youngest in the league. They’re not far removed from a 2-14 season.

Mistakes on the field were expected for the youthful Carolina Panthers, but Sunday, one of the most crucial errors was made on the sideline by their first-year head coach. Or at least, that’s what Ron Rivera said.

With time running out in the first half, the New Orleans Saints were out of timeouts. As former Panthers kicker John Kasay and his field goal unit rushed onto the field, it was apparent they wouldn’t have enough time to get a kick off. But then, a whistle. The Panthers had called timeout. 

That’s right -- the Panthers called a timeout. With two ticks on the clock gifted to him, Kasay booted a 46-yard field goal. 

The final score: 30-27 Saints -- the difference of a field goal. 


So what happened in those final, frantic moments of the first half? 

"Truthfully, I overthought it," Rivera admitted. "I wasn’t sure how many guys we had on the field, so I called the timeout. I thought the last thing we needed was to have thirteen guys on the field and give them another chance. That’s why I called it and that one is squarely on me. Those three points come right on my shoulders."

There’s a chance someone else on the Panthers called the timeout. Rivera could be falling on the sword -- it’s something he would do. But the simple fact is a huge mistake was made, and it’s a product of a youthful coaching staff.

Of course, it’d be unfair to blame the loss on one bad decision. Inexperience helped put the Panthers in a hole before thousands of fans were even in their seats on a gorgeous afternoon in Charlotte.

On his first play from scrimmage, Cam Newton threw to Patrick Robinson. That’s not good considering Robinson plays for the Saints. Three plays later, New Orleans had a 7-0 lead. The Newton interception was intended for Steve Smith. The 11th-year veteran ran an out route. The rookie quarterback threw inside. 


"I thought he was running the slant," Newton explained. "They started off the game, unbelievable, they’re given seven points. That was my fault."


After the game, Newton again showed why he’s quickly gaining a reputation as a bad loser. Not a sore loser, just a bad loser. The kid who never lost two straight games in his football life before this season, had just lost two straight for the second time in five weeks.


With many of his teammates already showered and on their way home, Newton was still in pads when he walked into the locker room slowly with Mike Shula. The Panthers quarterbacks coach continued to softly talk to Newton after he slumped down into his chair. Then came a long chat with Smith. 


More than an hour after the final whistle, Newton walked into his post game press conference glaring straight ahead. If the scene was outside in the winter, you may have been able to see actual steam coming from his head. 


When asked why it seemed like he was taking this loss harder than the previous three, Newton replied, "You’ve got standards and when you don’t meet that quota, you just ask yourself why. There’s a reason why we keep losing and I want to know the reason."


The Panthers have lost four games, none by more than seven points. Their average margin of defeat: 5.5 points. They’ve lost to Green Bay, New Orleans and Chicago -- the last two Super Bowl winners and last year’s other NFC finalist. Yet the stat that matters the most is this: They’re 1-4.


"Nobody expected us to play well," Smith said. "We’ve raised the bar, but with that comes a lot of anticipation and things expected from us. We keep letting ourselves down, letting our fans down."


Smith’s found a fountain of youth with Newton at the controls of a pass-first offense, but youth may be the biggest reason for the Panthers ugly record. That was obvious Sunday with rookie mistakes made by their quarterback and head coach. But perhaps, instead of dwelling on the losses, it’s worth focusing more on where this team may be headed.


"(The losses) all suck, to be honest with you," Rivera said. "At some point it’s going to turn around. When it out, because we won’t forget."

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