Panthers must stay course, cure redzone woes

When a coach says “hindsight is 20-20” twice in a press conference the day after a game, he certainly isn’t expressing regret over something that went well.

He also isn’t laying down a hammer, either. At least certainly not in the manner Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera addresses things.

Rivera tossed out that line twice Monday, along with about a dozen other clichés, nearly 24 hours after his team blew a 19-7 fourth-quarter lead and lost at the Chicago Bears, 23-22. The coach is obviously frustrated, but somewhere deep within still believes in his philosophy and team, despite disparate rumblings growing louder in the media and among fans as each loss piles up for the 1-6 Panthers.

“We just have to keep pounding, have to keep at it,” Rivera said. “We did the types of things we need to do to give ourselves the opportunity to win. At some point somewhere along the lines we’ll get that opportunity, we will win. But right now we have to stay the course.”

Staying the course is one thing, but the coach also knows changes must be made, although not sweeping ones. For example, Rivera said the team would listen to other clubs as the trade deadline approaches, but he didn’t get into specifics, even when asked several times about tailback DeAngelo Williams. Reports on Monday suggested some other clubs were showing interest in Williams.

But primary on the surface is how the Panthers approach red-zone situations.

Carolina reached Chicago’s red zone four times Sunday but crossed the goal line just once. And in the end, Justin Medlock’s five field goals weren’t enough.

Cam Newton has had issues with his zone reads running the spread offense as the goal line nears, so Rivera and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski are trying to determine if putting Newton under center may be more effective.

“I think some of it is we have to see what else can work, what the other options are,” Rivera said.

Rivera is hesitant about discussing other possible changes because he sees a team that is a play here and there in several games away from having a completely different disposition. Only the New York Giants have soundly beaten the Panthers (36-7). Their other five defeats have come by a combined 18 points, with losses at Atlanta and Chicago by a total of three points. The Falcons and Bears are a combined 13-1.

That’s one reason Rivera mustn’t just play the role of head coach, but to a degree he must also serve as the team’s shrink. He can’t lose his players’ faith. They believed in Rivera a year ago and even two months ago in camp. They believed this team was headed for a special season.

That reality has crash-landed, and now the team is charged with the responsibility of picking up the pieces. Rivera hasn’t wavered in his philosophy. And even with the flame-throwers out in full force, now’s not the time to change the course, especially if inspired by job security insecurities.

“No, it’s not a concern,” Rivera said when asked about his job status. “At the end of the day, I’m going to be evaluated, but right now that’s something I can’t be concerned with. If you start worrying and playing for certain things and the wrong reason you’re not going to give yourself a chance. I’m not going to worry about that.

“When the moment comes or the time comes to be concerned or not be concerned I’ll go from there.”

Rivera would be foolish to answer that question any differently, but to also go about the business of coaching the team any differently, either.

There is a fine line between success and failure in the NFL, and what’s dragging the Panthers down is they more than the opposition have been responsible for coming up short.