The Carolina Panthers are a monumental mess.
Their head coach has reverted from Riverboat Ron to Nervous Ron. Their general manager won’t talk during the season about all the mistakes he has made. The Panthers are 3-7-1 and haven’t won a game since Oct. 5.
But none of that is Jason Avant’s problem anymore.
Avant, a veteran wide receiver, was fired Tuesday. The Panthers got rid of him two days after he told the truth about the Panthers’ timidity in the fourth quarter against Atlanta.
Although the Panthers and Avant’s camp say the timing of his comments and his release is coincidental – and I don’t think Ron Rivera would lie about such a thing – it’s worth exploring the situation.
First, let’s talk about what Avant said. He was speaking about the final two minutes of Sunday’s 19-17 loss to Atlanta, when Carolina had the ball on the Falcons’ 32 with a first-and-10 and 1:42 to go.
At that point, Cam Newton had thrown touchdown passes on each of Carolina’s previous two drives and had thrown passes of 15 and 17 yards to get to Atlanta’s 32.
The Panthers then ran the ball three straight times, forcing Atlanta to use all three of its timeouts and setting up a field goal. There was still 1:31 left when Graham Gano trotted onto the field, down two points, and hooked his 46-yard field-goal attempt wide left.
I will tell you what I think of that strategy in a moment, but first let’s remember what Avant said to The Observer’s Joseph Person after the game in a one-on-one interview.
“I’ve been in the league a long time,” said Avant, who is 31 and a nine-year veteran. “I know two things. You never want to give a team a chance to win a game, with how much time was left on the clock. And asking a kicker to make a 50-yard field goal with the game on the line is rough sledding.
“If that’s the only option, yes. But if it’s not, you want to get as close as you can and think score and play to score a touchdown. Because I’d rather the (other) team have to score a touchdown to win the game than to have to kick a field goal. It’s just a lot different. It’s a 30-yard difference.”
You have to be “a little bit more aggressive,” as Avant also said. That’s if you’re going to play games to win them (as Rivera did time and again in 2013) instead of playing them not to lose, like the coach did Sunday.
Here’s the thing: I think the Panthers would have lost even if Gano made that field goal.
Assume a touchback on the next kickoff. You are still leaving Atlanta 82 seconds to go 45 to 50 yards, and the Falcons had done much the same thing in their drive right before that. Matt Bryant had already made four field goals. My opinion is he would have made a fifth, and Carolina would have lost 22-20.
The problem was Rivera’s conservatism on that key possession. Running the ball once? Sure. Twice? Maybe. Three times? No way.
Newton was hot. You have to throw it at least once.
You have to try to get closer (Gano is 75.0 percent in his career from 40 to 49 yards but 84.6 percent from 39 yards and in). Ideally, you either score a touchdown or at least you leave Atlanta far less time to match your field goal.
What if the third-down pass fell incomplete? So what.
Atlanta would have had one timeout left instead of zero. That’s all.
The risk vs. reward factors were begging Carolina to throw. I am sure Bill Belichick, Sean Payton, Chip Kelly, Jim Harbaugh and any number of other head coaches would have thrown at least once. I think even John Fox would have.
But no. This was a mistake borne of timidity and a misplaced confidence in the defense (Carolina has given up more points than any other NFL team this season). It would have remained a mistake even if Gano had made the field goal.
Now on to Avant’s release. I agree he should have been demoted. It often seemed as if a defensive back had been shrink-wrapped to Avant’s jersey this season. He just couldn’t get separation anymore. He had averaged about two catches for 19 yards per game in 2014, which is really bad. He and Jerricho Cotchery do the same thing, but Cotchery does it a little better.
So as a football move, it makes sense to have speedy Philly Brown playing more as the third wide receiver and Avant playing less. But Avant didn’t have to be released at all.
See, the Panthers also promoted former Appalachian State quarterback De’Andre Presley onto the active roster Tuesday. Presley is such a raw player that even on the release sent out Tuesday by the Panthers he is listed as a wide receiver and a cornerback.
Are you really telling me that Presley is a better target for Newton right now than Avant? C’mon. That move has all the makings of “this season is over, let’s see what the young guys have got.”
The Panthers are probably rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic at this point in terms of 2014.
Why anyone would think Carolina will win five games in a row when they are 1-7-1 in their past nine is beyond me. This team is simply not talented enough to go on that sort of run. Its coach and, particularly, its general manager have made things worse with some poor decision-making throughout 2014.
Avant told the truth Sunday about one specific incident.
The larger truth, though, is this: The Panthers’ win-loss record doesn’t lie. They have become a bad team. And they have hardly any chance of getting better until 2015.