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In My Opinion

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1-3 isn’t a record for the Carolina Panthers. It’s a lifestyle.

Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for 20 years and has been at the paper for 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.

The Carolina Panthers are 1-3 this season. They were 1-3 last season. They were 1-3 two seasons ago in Ron Rivera’s first year as coach.

One and three no longer feels like a record. It feels like a lifestyle.

The Panthers had a bye before their loss to Arizona on Sunday. They are 0-3 the last three seasons the week after a bye and have been outscored 71-23.

One week into October and the Panthers are playing catch up. To suggest that they’re finished is foolish. But if you’re older than 11, you have to work to find a reason to believe.

As always, Rivera is gracious Monday at his news conference. He doesn’t allow his emotions to freely spill out and he doesn’t feel obligated to try to show everybody everything he feels. In other words, he probably doesn’t spend a lot of time on Twitter.

Yet, emotion and frustration are apparent.

Rivera doesn’t say it, but the Panthers lost Sunday to a lesser team. Three weeks ago they lost to Buffalo, another lesser team. They should be 3-1 (they weren’t going to beat Seattle). They should be a team that, around the country, fans are starting to notice.

Nobody notices 1-3.

“I’ve been on teams where you showed up and you win a game – just by showing up,” says Rivera, who played for the Chicago Bears in the 1980s and early ’90s. “We’re not there. We’ve got a ways to go. We’re a young football team in some respects. In other respects, we should have arrived by now.”

The Panthers should have arrived by now.

It’s almost as if young has become part of the team’s name: Arizona 22, the Young Panthers 6.

Young gets old. Carolina has veterans in the offensive backfield, offensive line and receiving corps, on the defensive line, among linebackers and even defensive backs.

On opening day, the Panther roster was the NFL’s eighth oldest.

Why do the Panthers lose close games?

Against Arizona, receivers dropped passes. The quarterback began the game throwing fastballs to teammates and finished throwing fastballs to opponents. The Arizona offense was overwhelmed early, so it adjusted. The Cardinals ran, threw quick passes and used play-action to try to negate the Carolina rush.

The longer the game went, meanwhile, the more the Arizona defensive line overwhelmed the Panthers. The Cardinals sacked Cam Newton seven times. The pressure invariably came from the inside, often on delayed blitzes. The Panthers continued to drop back as if, somehow, the result magically would change.

“I mean, we don’t show up to try to lose games,” says Rivera. “We try to win them. And that’s the best we can do. We do the best we can. We show up on Mondays and Wednesdays and Thursdays and Fridays and Saturdays and then we go and play the games.

“That’s why you do it. You don’t do it for any other reason. I want people to believe we’re trying, and we’re trying to win football games, and that we’re very, very close. We are. And we showed what we’re capable of. And unfortunately we showed what we’re not, too. When we get consistent, that’s when you win.”

All mediocre teams are inconsistent. All successful teams are as good as they have to be.

The Panthers were impressive against Seattle, bad against Buffalo, great against the New York Giants and terrible against Arizona. A drop here, a bad decision by Newton there, a coverage lapse, a bad angle, a failure to communicate and the Panthers again are in the land of 1-3.

They have a place there, and they don’t rent.

“We want to win football games?” Rivera asks. “You can’t have those kinds of mistakes on a consistent basis. What you have to have is consistent plays being made.

“When you start making the catches you should, when you start running through the creases you should, when you get into the gaps you’re supposed to and make the tackles you should, that’s when, without a doubt in my mind, we show up, and that’s worth seven points.”

The Panthers have the talent to win their next three games – at Minnesota, at home against St. Louis and on the road against Tampa Bay.

But talent doesn’t win games.

And youth doesn’t lose them.

Sorensen: 704-358-5109; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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