With four straight losses, pressure is naturally building for Panthers coach Ron Rivera.
But his veteran players were going to bat for him after the latest loss, as they struggle to explain how a 6-2 start seems forever ago.
“I think we have a lot of talent on this team, and honestly, I look at last year and I look at this year and I think we’re a more talented bunch this year, but I think we were more disciplined last year,” elder center Ryan Kalil said, via Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer. “I just don’t think we’re a very disciplined football team, especially in critical situations.
“And that’s what it comes down to, in all three phases. . . . There’s nothing you can do about that, from a coaching standpoint. I’m very, very happy with how Ron goes about (his job) week to week, and that’s what makes this tough.”
Of course, coaches are easy marks at this point of the season, and everyone knows that. And Rivera may not have helped when he was asked about his job security twice last night and snapped: “I am not going to answer that question. Do not ask that question again, please.”
Rivera’s 70-53-1 in eight seasons with the team, with a pair of NFL coach of the year awards. But he’s presiding over a team with multiple problems at the moment.
A defense with a core of aging stars (Julius Peppers, Thomas Davis, Mike Adams) can’t pressure quarterbacks any more. An offensive line which was down to one starter at the end of the loss to the Bucs yesterday at his projected start (Kalil). And not the least of them is the injury status of quarterback Cam Newton, whose shoulder problems keep him from throwing on Wednesdays in practice or trying Hail Marys in games. There are also smaller injury issues, such as tight end Greg Olsen‘s foot finally giving out yesterday.
“We’ve won a lot of games around here, we’ve had a lot of success around here,” Olsen said. “It’s always easy to feel certain ways after bad losses, tough games. I don’t think these are the times, now, to talk about those sort of things. We’re on the record, over the last eight years, of what we feel about Ron.
“I think that’s been made pretty clear across the board by everybody who has played here.”
The Panthers have a new owner though, and without a track record to go on, we’re left to guess at how he’s going to react.