No more “what if” games for Panthers

If you ask the Carolina Panthers, there was plenty of blame to go around for losing in the final seconds at Atlanta last Sunday.

From safety Haruki Nakamara, who blamed himself for the defeat, to coach Ron Rivera, plenty of mistakes were made that proved costly. Even quarterback Cam Newton shares culpability. His fumble that may have turned a first down into a fourth down with less than two minutes remaining forced Rivera to make a tough decision. He opted to punt instead of going for it and has been widely criticized, as the Falcons easily moved up the field into position for a game-winning field goal.

Nobody in the organization has been immune to criticism the last couple of days. Carolina played very well in many respects. It was on the road against an unbeaten team and on the heels of the Panthers’ dismal performance in a home loss to the New York Giants 10 days earlier. But, as noted, the team made many mistakes, too. 

But as difficult as it may be for highly competitive professionals, Carolina must take the positives from this game and move forward. A 2-2 Seattle squad visits Bank of America Stadium this Sunday, and in reality it’s a team that should be 1-3 just like the Panthers.

On top of that, Seattle starts a rookie quarterback who is coming off a 3-interception performance. Now’s the time to move the nose in the right direction. If Carolina drops to 1-4 the tenor of the season moving forward will dramatically change from the vibe that permeated training camp.

The season isn’t over by any stretch, and Rivera opted to accentuate the positives.

“There were a lot of good things, a lot of things we’re going to build off and use as we go forward,” Rivera said Monday after having time to look at the game film and re-evaluate what he saw. “The bad part is that we had a very good football team against the ropes, and we didn’t finish them off.”

Rivera is learning the leadership side of his role a head coach, and in the NFL it’s a waste of time to make excuses or ask “What if.” Teams must move on, and if gauging the growth of this franchise in year two of Rivera and Newton, another opportunity is presented.

The coach singled out the play of the defensive line as a major positive. He also noted the play of the offensive line, which helped the combination of Newton and Carolina’s tailbacks amassed 199 yards. In addition, tight end Greg Olsen drew praise as die defensive Charles Johnson, among others.

Maybe if Nakamara had gotten a finger on Matt Ryan’s 59-yard pass to Roddy White that gave Atlanta the ball on Carolina’s 40-yard-line with 47 seconds remaining the game would have turned out differently and the narrative in the Queen City would be about the Panthers rebounding from the loss to New York, and at 2-2 being in the thick of things in the NFC South.

But that’s not the case.

“I think we just have to look ourselves in the mirror and decide who we’re going to be,” Nakamara said. “Are we going to be a team that makes mistakes, unfortunately like I did, or are we going to be a team that is resilient and comes back from being 1-3?

“We have to learn from it and just keep going forward.”

Now it’s time to replicate those positives versus a team that must travel across the country coming off a 19-13 loss at St. Louis, which came six days after a controversial ending in a win over Green Bay that was the impetus to get the regular officials back into action.

If the Panthers are close to the team they envisioned in camp, this is a challenge they should meet.