It was nearly two months ago that John Fox brought his Broncos to Charlotte and kicked his old team around his old stadium in every possible way. The Panthers did not convert a single third down that Sunday. The fact that Denver had more talent than Carolina is a reasonable explanation. However, Denver had not one, or two, but the three best coaches on the field too. It was a mismatch in every way possible.
What has to concern Panther fans is that even if they improve their personnel, 76-year-old owner Jerry Richardson has elected to keep coach Ron Rivera around for at least the start of his third season. The Panthers very well may improve.
Based on what we have seen for two seasons it will be in spite of their staff.
Two years ago Rivera had an excuse for beginning the year 2-8. The lockout prevented a first-year coach from communicating with players, and quarterback Cam Newton needed time to acclimate to a new system and the complexities of the NFL. While winning four of the final six games the Panthers were building momentum and good will for the 2012 campaign. Momentum and good will are nice but they still finished 6-10 on the year with a 1-5 mark in games decided by seven points or a less. The lowest point of the year was probably a home loss in a game they twice led by a touchdown against a three win Minnesota team. The highlight of the season was the lone victory over a playoff team when Carolina beat Houston 28-13 in what has been a staple of the Rivera era, a game where nothing more than pride was on the line.
After Newton won rookie of the year, Rivera had a full off-season, and Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil purchased a full-page newspaper ad in July predicting a Super Bowl victory, expectations for significant improvement were reasonable. What followed was another 2-8 start. Yes, Carolina won five of their last six to finish 7-9, but they improved not a smidgen from year one in key areas. The Panthers went 1-7 in games decided by seven points or less, and during their winning run in meaningless games at the end of the season found a way to lose to cellar dweller Kansas City 27-21. They beat exactly one playoff team during the year.
Winning games when nothing is on the line does not count for a whole lot. Losing close games does. Falling to inferior opponents is a bad sign. The Panthers have talent and it has been proven by playing many close games against quality opponents. Good coaching staffs find a way to win. John Fox is winning this year with Peyton Manning. Last year he got it done with Tim Tebow. The Panthers need to make the playoffs for Rivera to see year four. The franchise would be better off with another 2-8 start. Then there would be no doubt that new leadership is needed.