A week can make a huge difference in the NFL.
Last week, Carolina was coming off a disappointing 31-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, and Rivera put the entire team on notice. Everyone is still on notice, but it is a little easier to go to work after coming off an upset 28-13 victory over the Houston Texans (10-4).
Aside from the Panthers’ impressive win over the Texans, Carolina has shown consistency during the last month. The Panthers have won three of four games, and Rivera credits the Panthers finishing off games and avoiding third-quarter lulls.
On Monday at his weekly news conference, Rivera said the third period has been an Achilles Hill because teams have been able to mount comebacks on Carolina after halftime. The Panthers have lead in eight games going into the third quarter, and the Panthers have been unable to take the lead back
Rivera pointed out last week’s 31-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons was another third-quarter disaster. The Panthers led at halftime 23-7 and were outplaying the Falcons in the first half. The Panthers went scoreless in the second half, and Atlanta scored 10 points in the third period. Then the Falcons finished the game scoring 14 points in the fourth period due to the moment that was built from the third period.
“I think down in the stretch in some situations we have been able to make plays,” Rivera said. “In the first two games, we won back to back we didn’t have that third-quarter lull. You go all the way back to Detroit we have that third-quarter lull.”
Receiver Brandon LaFell said the Panthers weren’t playing well against the Texans in the third quarter. He said the Panthers need to bring the energy from the first half to the third quarter.
“I don’t know what is wrong with us,” LaFell said about the third-quarter lapses. “We come out in the first half full of energy and balling and scoring at will mostly. In that third quarter, we kind of get a lull, and we forget what we did to get where we are now and then we turn it back on in the fourth quarter.”
The second-year pro said receivers coach Fred Graves called an offensive meeting on the sideline and lit into the unit for putting the defense in bad positions and playing poorly. He said Graves told the unit to get a long drive going because the defense needs a break and needs to get off the field.
“We came out in the third quarter really slow,” LaFell said. “We weren’t doing anything, three and outs and one or two first downs.
But LaFell said the team has played better during the last month because the mindset is more about what the Panthers are going to do as opposed to what their opponents are trying to do.
“We are going into every game feeling like we are going to be the dictators,” LaFell said. “Whatever we do on defense, offense and special teams is going to depend on how we play and win this game or not. We are not worried about the looks you are going to give us. What your offense is going to do to our defense. We are going to come out here and attack you and put points on the board, and we are going to make you turn the ball over, and we are going to win the game.”
Rivera noted that players are maturing, and rookie Cam Newton has been taking more of a leadership role with speeches before the game and even at a critical moment of the game.
Rivera also credited the young players such as Bryan Bell, Jordan Senn and Andre Neblett for playing well during that span. He even went as far as to say that Senn could potentially start next year because it will be difficult to take him off the field if the Portland State product continues to play well.
Senn finished with 14 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery in the Panthers’ 28-13 victory over the Texas on Sunday. When Rivera was asked about Senn’s ability to play well despite his 5-10, 224-pound frame, the first-year coach compared his linebacker to former Panther Sam Mills. Rivera said Mills is the organization’s best linebacker in history and was less than 6 foot.
Rivera even took time to praise his offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. He said Chudzinski has provided the kind of offense he wanted to see from his team, and McDermott has handled his unit well in spite of all the injuries to defense.
Whether it was the victory over the 10-4 Texans or not, Rivera spoke with a lot of optimism when discussing the return of Armanti Edwards’ second year in the offense and the return of David Gettis, who tore his ACL during training camp.
But Rivera wouldn’t commit to Bell as a long-term starter at right tackle, but he did say the Panthers will discover a role for the undrafted rookie on the offensive line. He described Bell as having the ability to play more than one position on the offensive line and the Panthers coaching staff continuing to evaluate him to see where he fits best.
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