Ron Rivera wants to get through Carolina’s season finale at Tampa Bay on New Year’s Day before he reflects on what went wrong in 2016. But the Panthers coach on Monday did drop a couple of hints that changes will be coming in 2017.
“You have to evolve. Things are going to change after six seasons,” Rivera said. “When this is all done, we’ll take a look back at some things and see what we’ve got to do as we go forward.”
At best, the Panthers will win eight fewer games than they did last season. It’s by far the steepest fall ever for a team coming off 15 wins, and it continues the franchise’s now 22-year-old inability to put together back-to-back winning seasons.
Injuries have played a part, but they also muddle the gray area between excuses and everything else that didn’t go well.
First and foremost, general manager Dave Gettleman can be accused of resting on his laurels this offseason. He, of course, hasn’t answered questions about the makeup of his roster since August, and it will be interesting to see if he admits to mistakes or regrets during his postseason press conference next week.
Secondly, the offense and quarterback Cam Newton regressed badly. The Panthers, who led the league with 31.2 points per game during Newton’s MVP-winning season, are 14th in scoring with a 23.5 average.
Set to shatter career lows in completion percentage (52.7 percent) and passer rating (77.5), Newton deserves blame for his disappointing season. But just like injuries aren’t a one-size-fits-all excuse, he’s not the sole reason for his decline.
Because you’d never fire the reigning MVP and your most important player, others around him are vulnerable. The offense has been broken for most of this season, which means coordinator Mike Shula and/or quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey are the most likely fall guys.
“There’s a lot of things that we’re going to look at,” Rivera said. “We understand and we get that there’s some things that have to evolve around him because he’s evolving as a quarterback, as well. He’s getting older and he’s going to be a different style player. We know that much.”
For what it’s worth, the Panthers have cut back on centering so much of their offense on Newton’s ability to run. But while his 87 attempts and 353 yards are well below the fewest of his career, this year’s ‘evolution’ has instead been a big step backward for the entire unit.
Fiercely loyal, it’s too early to know what changes Rivera will be willing to make. But even if owner Jerry Richardson and Gettleman have to chime in, changes are coming.
“I believe this is a blip,” Rivera said.
“If you don’t learn from this, then you’ve wasted it. I know that it hasn’t been what we expected, what I expected. But I do know this — I’m going to learn from it, I’m going to grow from it and we’ll be better.”