The last thing true competitors want after suffering a taste-altering defeat is to have to sit and stew about it for an extended period of time. Most want to get right back out there and eliminate the residue of the pain.
The Carolina Panthers had no option following their 36-7 home loss to the New York Giants last Thursday that was actually worse than the score indicates.
“That’s the thing that stinks,” offensive tackle Jordan Gross said following the defeat. “You have all weekend to sit and think about what went wrong.”
Plenty went wrong as the Panthers flopped on the national stage. They imploded in their first truly big game of the Ron Rivera and Cam Newton era. And the postmortem hasn’t been kind, either.
Newton drew ranging criticism over his body language at periods during the game and afterward. Newton gestured, flailed his arms and moped as the loss mounted. It wasn’t very becoming of a young man who the season before set the NFL on fire as a record-setting rookie.
So emotional veteran Steve Smith stepped in and gave Newton a needed earful. For Carolina’s sake, hopefully that set in well, because with a trip to 3-0 Atlanta looming this Sunday, it might be panic time already for the Panthers. But that’s certainly not the narrative coming out of Charlotte.
“This was the third game of the season,” Rivera said. “We’re 1-2. There are a number of teams in this league that are 1-2.”
The coach’s diplomatic approach is the right approach. This is a young team that’s licking its wounds. No need to pile on or add any more pressure to the situation.
“If we start saying, ‘OK, these are your problems,’ and start making moves, start pulling people, start making changes in philosophies, then there’s concern,” Rivera said. “We’re sticking with who we are and are going to continue working with who we have on this football team. We’ll make changes as we feel they’re necessary, but it’s the third game of the year.
“To me, the big objective, more so than anything else, is to continue to show improvement. We want to show that we’ve gotten better and that we’re getting better.”
That will require the defense perform at a much higher rate than it did versus Eli Manning and the defending Super Bowl champions. Matt Ryan has already put forth a prolific career, but he’s off to his best start yet.
Ryan has completed 72 percent of his 107 pass attempts for 793 yards, eight touchdowns and an interception. His quarterback rating is 114. It’s helped that second-year wide receiver Julio Jones is playing to his immense potential to go along with underrated receiver Roddy White and veteran tight end, future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez.
In addition, at plus-46 points, the Falcons are tied with Houston for outscoring the opposition by the most points in the NFL.
This is quite a task for a Panthers team ranked 24th in total defense and 18th against the pass.
But more than Carolina stepping up and throwing Ryan off his game, the Panthers need Newton to get back into a groove, which begins with his psyche. As long as Newton is doing his thing, Carolina has a chance to beat anybody, and the team knows it. Deep down, he does, too.
“It starts with me,” Newton said last Thursday when asked how as a leader he can get the team to bounce back. “I can’t lead anything without evaluating myself… I will evaluate the film and see what I could have done better, which is a lot of things. And like I said, come back next week and get on the right track.”
Few teams overcome 1-3 starts, especially in a division as competitive as the NFC South. That’s why this game is even more crucial. Responding well is important, but so is winning.