Ron Rivera said he’ll give his team one hour after talking to the media to be sad about their performance – then it’s time to move on.
No time to sulk about a three-point loss to the reigning NFC champions, especially not when the result may have been different had one of three fumbles bounced your way – all three balls that went on the ground today were recovered by the Rams; no time to sulk about a game in which your running back accounts for over 200 yards and you hold the two-time reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year to one tackle and one quarterback hit; no time to sulk about a game where the Panthers had opportunities to win that they didn’t seize.
The Panthers can learn from today, but there’s no time to sulk – not when the Tampa Bay Bucs and the spectre of falling to 0-2 loom large only four days away and Ron Rivera’s Panthers are 3-5 since 2011 on Thursday Night Football.
“It’s a long season,” said Gerald McCoy after the game. “We have a good team, we really do. We gave the NFC champs all they wanted and we just made too many mistakes – they made more plays than us at the end.”
“It’s a learning experience. We don’t have time to really think about it that long, we’ve got Thursday night coming up – we’ll get it fixed, be ready to go on Thursday, but we definitely plan on seeing those guys again.”
The Panthers aren’t making excuses for the loss. Both teams played in blazing hot weather, both teams played minimal snaps in the preseason – the Rams’ starters didn’t play at all and while Cam Newton said after the game that he felt “a little rusty”, it didn’t matter – both teams started out slow as the first quarter yielded zero points combined. The first half came to a close with the Rams up 13-3, but the lone touchdown of the game came off of a Panthers turnover that put the Rams on a very short field.
It was in the second half when things changed, and although the Panthers outscored the Rams 27-17 in the second half, the adjustments made at halftime ultimately were enough to keep the Rams ahead – and Ron Rivera admitted after the game that the way McVay and his team came out of the half flustered him a bit as the Rams coaching staff obviously saw something they felt like they could exploit.
After rushing for only 36 yards in the first half, the Rams had 130 in the final 30 minutes – they more than doubled their 112 net yards in the first half with 237 in the second.
The Rams scored on their first two possessions of the second half and had 130 yards as they extended their lead to 23-10; James Bradberry even said after the game that the Rams may have figured out what the Panthers were doing on third down – the Rams converted 62.5% of the third downs after halftime.
“They came out and did a nice job in the second half and got me on that and that’s on me – 100 percent,” said Rivera. “[McVay] did a nice job, I got a little impatient on him and he hit me with it; it’s a little something that I’ll keep in the back of my mind – you have to give him kudos for what he did early in the third quarter.”
The Rams’ first three plays of the third quarter went for 64 yards and only an ill-timed holding penalty kept the Rams out of the end zone on that drive.
The defensive playcalling in the first half was impressive as the Panthers stifled the Rams’ vaunted offense, holding them to 3.3 yards per offensive play, utilizing a dime package that they used exactly zero times last year – some of that was due to the Rams’ offensive formations with three wideouts, but a lot of it had to do with having the personnel to be able to run it here in Carolina – without a player like Ross Cockrell, who can play both safety and cornerback and is considered the top backup at both secondary positions, it wouldn’t be possible.
But using a package with six defensive backs is great on third down – not so great when they pick up that third down and you’re stuck without linebackers and the Rams can run Todd Gurley at you without huddling.
“It’s not a good first down defense,” Rivera admitted.
For all that was written and talked about this offseason about the Panthers 3-4 base defense, we didn’t see very much of it on Sunday against the Rams.
“We didn’t really do the 3-4 today,” said rookie edge rusher Brian Burns, who had two QB hits and a tackle for loss on Sunday. “It was more four down [linemen]. basically on gameplan. The 3-4 will come out eventually.”
While it worked in the first half, using six defensive backs may have cost the Panthers some of their pass rush – the Panthers registered only five hits on Jared Goff and their only sack came from Bradberry on the Rams’ first possession of the day.
But the Panthers still had their chances to win in Week 1 – although no Carolina fan wants to hear this phrase, the Panthers simply missed the opportunities they had in a winnable game, something positive to take away from the loss.
“We really had a shot,” said McCoy. “It ain’t like we were getting destroyed….we were right in it. That’s the NFL, it’s a game of inches; one flipped play – the play with Luke, the toss with the fumble, if we recover instead of it bouncing out and [them] getting it back, there’s a lot of different things that could have went our way but didn’t.”
“We build on the positives, learn from the negatives and move forward.”