Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera says that after looking at the tape his team did not perform as poorly in the first half Sunday as he’d believed.
But if the tape is honest it told Rivera that the Panthers did not play well. It told him that the Panthers didn’t dominate Miami the way they did Minnesota, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Atlanta.
It told him that they didn’t play defense the way they did against San Francisco or offense the way they did against New England.
This shouldn’t be a surprise; teams and athletes have days when they’re off.
Who should we blame – Rivera, his staff or his players?
There is no blame.
Aren’t you better at your job some days than you are on others?
If you run, play basketball or lift weights, play Texas Hold ’Em, pool or the guitar, aren’t there days when, for no reason you’ve ever been able to figure out, you’re not as good as you were the previous week?
At 10-1, Seattle has the best record in the NFL. Some days the Seahawks are outstanding. But they aren’t outstanding every day.
The Seahawks beat Houston by three points, Tampa Bay (when the Buccaneers were still winless) by three points and St. Louis (when the Rams were in their bottom-feeder phase) by five points.
Yet in Super Bowl odds released Monday by Bovada.lv, the Seahawks supplanted Denver as Super Bowl favorites.
The odds against the Seahawks are 3-1. Denver is next at 7-2. New England and New Orleans are third at 13-2.
On Oct. 10 New Orleans lost to the New York Jets 26-20.
On Nov. 3 New England lost to the Jets 30-27.
Bovada.lv’s odds against the Jets winning the Super Bowl are 250-1.
Their odds of the Panthers winning it are 10-1. They’re fifth. (Next is San Francisco at 14-1, then Kansas City and Cincinnati at 22-1.)
Good teams have bad days, and most of the time they win anyway. That’s why they’re good. That’s what the Panthers did Sunday.
The victory against the Miami was as impressive in its way as the glamour victories against the 49ers and Patriots were in theirs.
This was not a marquee matchup. This was a game, after the Panthers had been discovered by a national audience, against an opponent with decent talent but in an inability to win close games (see Panthers 2010, 2011 and the first five weeks of 2012).
Carolina got knocked around a little in the opening half and played lethargically.
The only way the Panthers could win was if, when they had to be good, they were. So they were.
Rivera had been 2-14 in games decided by a seven points or fewer. Now he’s 5-14.
Three straight weeks Carolina’s offense has had game-winning drives and the Carolina defense – and it doesn’t get enough credit for this – has had game-winning stops.
It’s almost as if, before the game, Rivera tells his team:
“We’re going to win the game in the last minute, there’s going to be a controversial penalty against an opposing tight end or what could have been a game-winning touchdown catch by an opposing receiver, Luke Kuechly will not be called for a penalty in the end zone no matter what he does and, oh yeah, as long as I run the show we’re never going to punt again.
It works. It works when the Panthers are on and it works when they’re not.
It’s a good speech. And it has been a compelling season.