A number of Panthers fans were screaming online after Sunday’s tie against the Cincinnati Bengals that coach Ron Rivera should have gone for it on fourth-and-1 from the Cincinnati 18 and three minutes left in overtime.
I don’t agree. In this case, I thought “Riverboat Ron” was OK not to take the trip down that particular river.
To recap: Carolina was down 37-34 in overtime but got to have a possession because of the NFL rule instituted in 2012 that an overtime game can’t end if the team that receives the kickoff scores only a field goal.
So Rivera had to weigh the odds of missing it on fourth-and-1 – which would have lost the game outright – vs. having Graham Gano kick the field goal and tie the game.
Cam Newton was running the ball beautifully, and a touchdown would have ended the game in Carolina’s favor. But this was really about a yard and a half, not a yard, and at that point Cincinnati would have played the quarterback sneak. I don’t think Newton could have simply run for it up the middle, and the Panthers are not a great short-yardage team.
Of course, you could argue Carolina’s defense was playing so badly that Cincinnati was undoubtedly going to get into scoring position again. And you would be right.
But the Bengals missed the game-winning field goal, and it ended up as a 37-37 tie. At the time, though, I still thought Rivera did the right thing.
“Hindsight is always 50-50 – or 20-20 – whatever the number is,” Newton said afterward.
• You know it goes on, but when there is obvious video evidence of an NFL player taking a cheap shot, it makes you a little sick. If you watch what Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict did after Cam Newton scored – giving Newton’s ankle a little extra twist when he was down – it’s very apparent that Burfict should be fined heavily by the NFL.
Burfict was also called out by Gano for doing the same sort of thing on Greg Olsen’s touchdown TD catch; Gano tweeted: “Unbelievable that a player would intentionally try to hurt my teammates twice. I hope the NFL lays down the law hard” and, in a later tweet: “Seriously that makes me sick.”
• Most Panthers had never been involved in a tie football game at any phase of their careers, since at almost every other level of football multiple overtimes are played until a winner is declared.
A few were not clear as to whether the game would continue into a sixth quarter, which would happen in the playoffs (and did when Steve Smith’s touchdown catch beat St. Louis in the Panthers’ run to the Super Bowl in the 2003 season).
• Then-Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb got a lot of negative publicity for not knowing that a regular-season NFL game could end in a tie six years ago. That also happened in Cincinnati, in 2008. But a number of Panthers players weren’t clear on all the overtime rules this time around, either – including veteran center Ryan Kalil. It just doesn’t come up much.
• The Panthers had the wind at their backs for overtime. If Carolina had gotten the ball back, Gano said he told Rivera the team just needed to get to midfield for him to try a 68-yard field goal he felt confident he would have made. Gano had a weird day himself, missing from 38 yards but also making 44- and 39-yard field goals that were of the “miss it and the game is over” variety.
• The Panthers’ best chance to win really came when Jerricho Cotchery couldn’t come up with the ball on second-and-6 from the Cincinnati 23 in the end zone in overtime. That was a tough catch, but it could have been made.
• Most worrisome sign for the frequently torched Carolina defense: Cincinnati racked up 37 points and 513 total yards without Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green.
• This reminded me of one of those innumerable college games where the defenses just get overwhelmed by superior playmakers. It rarely happens in the NFL, but it did Sunday. There were two punts in five quarters – and 58 first downs.