By Ted Fleming
There are few words, if any, left to describe how the Panthers keep losing close games and the one-point defeat to the Bills in Buffalo on Sunday may be the final straw for the Carolina hierarchy.
Under Ron Rivera, the Panthers could be first in line to draft Jadeveon Clowney out of South Carolina with the first overall pick because they now have a season worth of games with final scores of seven points or less. They are 2-14 in those games and each time one of these finals is added to the standings it is yet another kick in the gut to the band of 53 players on the active roster.
This time they left nearly two minutes on the clock with a six point lead, enough for rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel to execute a game-winning drive and polish it off with a pass to a wide open receiver in the corner of the end zone. The point after was the margin of victory for Buffalo.
Coaching Grade: F
Mike Shula is the Panthers new offensive coordinator and all he has done in his two games is turn one of the most dynamic quarterbacks into a game manager and it just is not good enough. Ron Rivera may be the one asked to leave after this latest debacle, but if changes are to be made Shula should be first out holding the door.
Twice Carolina got excellent field position after a fumble recovery and an interception in the second half and each time they came away with just a field goal. There was no sense of urgency and each so-called drive looked more like they were trying to run out the clock rather than find a way into the end zone. Shula’s game plan was tepid at best and he did not take more shots at the banged up Bills secondary.
When it comes to close games the Panthers are a dysfunctional bunch and it may be Ron Rivera’s legacy in Charlotte.
Quarterback Grade: D
Cam Newton was coming off a career low passing game where he threw for just 125 yards. He nearly doubled that against the Bills (229) and while he did take a few more shots down the field than a week ago, he was badly off-target on some of them. Only one deep throw is worth mentioning, a beautiful pitch and catch to Ted Ginn that went for 40 yards and a touchdown the first time the Panthers had the ball in the second half.
The 24 year old had a miserable first half until he picked up the pace in the final moments to connect with tight end Greg Olsen for six and the way Carolina came out in the third quarter things were looking up. Mike Shula might have tipped his hand at what his political leanings might be because he had such a conservative approach you might have thought you were at a Republican convention. Maybe Newton knew something because that thousand-watt smile he usually carries with him throughout a game was invisible even after he positioned his team for three consecutive field goals.
If Newton is going to be used the way he has in the first two games, it will not matter if the Panthers lose by four or 40 because it will be a long year in the Carolinas.
Offense Grade: C-
For the second game in a row DeAngelo Williams, not Cam Newton, led the team in rushing. He ran for 85 of the Panthers 125 and because another digit went into the loss column one might wonder where their dual-threat quarterback is. Newton took off just four times for 15 yards and overall the entire offense accounted for just 309 yards.
In the first half it was nearly two-to-one, pass to run, and the team looked a bit disinterested or out of whack after a good opening drive ended in a Buffalo pick. There were four straight punts before Newton found some gusto with a touchdown to end the first half and another to start the second. Sure the Panthers scored six times in their last seven possessions, but you need more than three-pointers if you want to step on an opponent when they are down.
Defense Grade: D
For the most part the Panthers had trouble stopping the Bills ground attack. Last week C.J. Spiller could not get untracked with 17 carries for 41 yards (2.4 average). The 26 year old torched Carolina for 6.4 each time he touched the ball (16-103) including a 46-yarder. Overall the defense gave up 436 yards with 149 from Spiller and three others.
Luke Kuechly was going to get a gold star for a great game before things fell apart. He had 14 tackles, a key interception, one pass defended and a tackle for a loss. Unfortunately, he was flagged for pass interference on a ball that was intercepted by Colin Jones with 14 seconds left. It kept the Bills drive alive which ultimately ended in a game-tying touchdown and the go-ahead point-after.
There was a lot of injury to insult on Sunday. Cornerback Josh Thomas laid a big hit on Robert Woods on an end-around early in the second quarter and missed the rest of the game with a concussion. In addition, safety Charles Godfrey was carted off the field with a right ankle injury. Josh Norman was banged up with a right calf problem after he was hit in the right thigh by a teammate making a tackle.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.