This is the first week all year where I can hardly point to a single opportunity that Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera took on extra risk by being conservative. This isn’t the same Ron that we have come to know and love to hate. He only elected to punt around midfield on distances of six, four, and three yards to gain. I might have liked to see him go for those in different game situations, but it is hard to fault him for those decisions in last Sunday’s game. Instead, I am going to give him credit for turning the other cheek to two, beautifully gift-wrapped chances to not try to score points.
The first opportunity came at the start of the Panthers back breaking 99-yard drive for their third touchdown of the first half. Backed up to their own one-yard line, the Panthers ran the ball on first down for minimal gain. So far, they looked like Rivera’s model Panthers. Then, instead of setting up a difficult third and long by again running for minimal gain, Cam Newton was tasked with a deep passing play that saw rookie DJ Moore create a 33 yard gain.
That passing attempt would have been the right call even if the Panthers didn’t ultimately score a touchdown on that drive. It would have been the right call even if the Panthers punted without gaining another first down. It created far more room for punter Michael Palardy to work with than any run likely would have. Of course, a deep pass out of the end zone won’t work every time, football can’t be so easy as that. My main complaint against the Panthers play-calling in these situations is that they rarely take the chance. What’s that old saying about missing all of the shots you don’t take? Well, the Panthers took a shot. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to see.
I don’t know if credit for that particular play call goes more to Rivera or freshman offensive coordinator Norv Turner, but I’m giving it to Rivera. This is his team and he shoulders the blame when things go very wrong. He deserves the praise when they try new —and successful— things, as well.
The Panthers passed on a second opportunity to turtle up on their very next drive. Rivera has a history of not trying to score points at the end of the first half, even on the rare occasion when he does have time outs to spare. Factor in the Panthers two touchdown lead and every Panthers fan watching that game knew what to expect when Newton got the ball back with 0:52 left in the second half and only one time out. They were going to take a couple of knees and look forward to starting the second half with the ball. Except that’s not what the Panthers did at all.
Newton moved the team 27 yards before taking a delay of game penalty to put back up Taylor Heinicke on the field on fourth and seven. Newton had experienced soreness in his throwing shoulder throughout the week and didn’t think he was the best player on the team to take a shot for the Hail Mary attempt. Instead of chucking it deep, Heinicke made a smart play to find Olsen for the first down with enough room to run to get the team inside of Graham Gano’s field goal range.
You won’t see any national writers praising Newton this week for the maturity and leadership it takes for somebody of his talent and confidence to step back and let somebody else be “the guy” in such a high stakes moment, but you’ll see that praise here. Newton has been crisp and he has been smart this year. He has been the difference in several games so far where other mistakes would have sunk the team.
That Rivera is breaking from his usual habits and pushing the team, that he is trusting Turner, who is in turn trusting Newton, is everything for the Panthers chances. Newton is the engine that drives this team and they will only go as far as he can take them. Rivera opened the team up this week and Newton showed what that can mean against a good team.
They both deserve credit for the win against the Ravens, but Newton wouldn’t have had the opportunity to shine if Rivera hadn’t decided to let the team push to its limits instead of play within safe margins. This game belongs to Ron Rivera.
Rivera says Cam making decisions quicker is a key to recent success. Unrelated: Rivera is wearing a “Riverboat Ron” T-shirt. pic.twitter.com/y9KELJHymc— Scott Fowler (@scott_fowler) October 29, 2018
This isn’t the first second coming of Riverboat Ron, the Panthers aggressive, no holds barred coach who coaches to win. Hell, it isn’t even the second. Somehow the turtle always comes back every year. There is another old saying that comes to mind here. Fool me once, shame on Ron. Fool me twice, shame on me. I have no idea who gets shamed when I, eyes wide open, am getting fooled for an eighth time, but here we are.