Carolina Panthers: Haruki Nakamura May Lose Job After 4 Costly Blunders

Knox Bardeen@knoxbardeenNFC South Lead WriterOctober 2, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 30:  Roddy White #84 of the Atlanta Falcons pulls in this reception against Haruki Nakamura #43 and Josh Norman #24 of the Carolina Panthers in the final seconds at Georgia Dome on September 30, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Carolina Panthers free safety Haruki Nakamura had one of the most nightmarish performances of his young career Sunday, maybe one of the worst of any free safety of recent memory.

The Atlanta Falcons drove 77 yards in under a minute to set up a game-winning field goal and top off a miraculous come-from-behind victory. The first play of that drive was a 59-yard pass where Nakamura blew his assignment. It was his final mistake of the day, and the most publicized, but it wasn’t his only miscue.

The Falcons scored three touchdowns, two of which were directly related to poor coverage by Nakamura. On the third touchdown, Nakamura missed an open-field tackle that cost the Panthers another six points.

Those four moments of failure now might cost Nakamura his job.

In Monday’s press conference, head coach Ron Rivera said safety Sherrod Martin would take first-team reps in practice this week before a decision was made on who to start in Week 5 when the Panthers host the Seattle Seahawks.

"If we are going to evaluate, we have to evaluate the different combinations and what the possibilities can be," Rivera said. "When you look at what happened in training camp, I didn't think Sherrod did a bad job. We'll continue to evaluate and we've got until Sunday to make a decision."

Nakamura won the free safety job in training camp, but it was Martin who started all 16 games at the position last year. Now the two will battle for the spot this week.

Here’s a look at the four plays that could potentially have cost Nakamura his job.


Touchdown No. 1

Roddy White ran by the Panthers' defense, passing through brief coverage from Chris Gamble, Charles Godfrey and finally Nakamura, who got turned around after White passed him like he was in slow motion.

Once White got behind the free safety, there was no way Nakamura could recover.


Touchdown No. 2

Nakamura was late getting into coverage of White on his second touchdown catch of the day, a 14-yard strike near the end of the second quarter.

White was lined up in the slot and covered by linebacker Jon Beason. Nakamura should have realized quicker that Beason on White in the red zone was a terrible matchup.

Because Nakamura was late over the top, he watched White catch his second touchdown pass of the half.


Touchdown No. 3

Atlanta’s third touchdown pass could have been prevented by Nakamura, but this time he wasn’t in coverage.

Ryan threw a screen pass to Michael Turner, who busted off a 60-yard touchdown scamper. About 12 yards into his run Nakamura gets in a position to tackle Turner and has seven yards to find the best angle and prepare for the jarring hit.

Turner gave a slight shoulder fake and cut back towards the inside and Nakamura’s momentum caused him to miss the tackle.

Turner ran 42 yards after the missed tackle to cross the goal line.


Final Drive Blown Coverage

Nakamura’s fourth costly mistake came on Atlanta’s final drive of the game.

From his own 1-yard line, Matt Ryan launched a deep ball toward White and both cornerback Josh Norman and Nakamura were in coverage.

The 59-yard pass was in the air for quite some time, and while Nakamura and Norman were tracking the ball, White slipped behind the coverage. With under a minute to play, one of Nakamura’s only responsibilities was to ensure no one got behind him.

White was able to go by and come up with the jump-ball catch to start Atlanta’s game-winning drive.


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