Panthers vs. Bears: Carolina Still 'Learning How to Win'

Knox BardeenNFC South Lead WriterOctober 28, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 28: Jonathan Stewart #28 of the Carolina Panthers is tackled by Brian Urlacher #54 of the Chicago Bears on October 28, 2012 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
David Banks/Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers are 1-6 after a heartbreaking loss to the Chicago Bears on a last-second Robby Gould field goal. A record of 1-6 is bad, and so is this team in its current state. But are the Panthers really a six-loss team after just eight weeks of the 2012 season (and remember, Carolina’s already enjoyed its bye week)?

Take away the Thursday night debacle when the New York Giants embarrassed the Panthers 36-7, and Carolina’s other five losses have been by six points or fewer, or an average of 3.6 points per game.

Two of the Panthers’ losses have come on the road on last-second field goals by currently elite teams, Week 4 against the Atlanta Falcons and Sunday against the Bears.

“That’s the difference between who they are right now and who we are,” said head coach Ron Rivera after Carolina’s Week 8 loss. “Teams like them are going to win these kind of games and teams like us are learning how to win them.”

That’s actually a solid point. It’s cliché to talk about a win being just a win, but the good teams find ways. Rivera’s admitting as much, and without saying so, admitting that his Panthers aren’t a good team right now.

“We’ve got to continue to play like that,” said Rivera in response to the way the Panthers—who controlled more than three quarters of Sunday’s game—played in Chicago. “It just shows you that I think there’s a formula in there. We did some things differently on offense and defense and we put ourselves in position.

“Honestly, if we can continue to do that, eventually it’ll turn. The tide will turn. Our guys are playing too hard, our guys are doing so many good things. We’re going to stay the course.”

There’s some truth that Rivera’s second statement as well. But there’s also some realism left out.

Before the Panthers can win, or at least win with convincing regularity, some mistakes are going to have to be fixed. And those mistakes aren’t just on the shoulders of one player. They’re from the top down—from the coaching staff down to every player on the roster.

The Panthers seemed to fix one of the issues that got former general manager Marty Hurney fired this week. Hurney spent $89.211 million on three running backs that weren’t being used to their potential.

Sunday, the trio of Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert carried the ball 31 times. No one averaged more than three yards per carry, and that’s an area that must be improved, but the plan on utilizing the running game came to fruition.

Cam Newton, once again, barely broke the 50-percent completion ratio barrier, and he threw two interceptions. The interception that he’ll likely get beat up for the most—a fourth-quarter pick-six that gave Chicago the lead—while a huge mistake, wasn’t necessarily Newton’s fault.

Steve Smith fell down on the route, and later took full responsibility, according to Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer.

Rivera will also be second-guessed for a coaching decision made late in the first half. Fowler, in a different Charlotte Observer article, called Rivera’s decision not to kick a 50-yard field goal with three seconds left in the second quarter “awful.”

While Rivera’s choice wasn’t simple, he’ll be dodging criticism this week nonetheless. And there are two sides to that coin of placing blame.

But until Rivera and the Panthers place a few wins in the right column, that’s how life will be in Charlotte, N.C.

With a few close games going in their direction, and a few issues cleaned up by players and coaches, those wins could come soon, and in bunches.