Ithas been two months since Panthers coach Ron Rivera had to address his team following a loss, and he admitted he had no magic words after a humbling 31-13 defeat at New Orleans on Sunday.
The only thing Rivera knows to do is return to the practice field and go back to work or risk falling into a crowded pack of NFC teams fighting for playoff positioning.
The Panthers (9-4) were beaten soundly at the Superdome, snapping an eight-game winning streak that was the longest in franchise history. They fell a game behind the Saints (10-3) in the NFC South, with the teams meeting again Dec. 22 in Charlotte.
As I told them (Sunday) night, this was a very humbling experience. Maybe we needed a little bit of that. Maybe we got a little full of ourselves and thought we were capable of just showing up, Rivera said Monday. Im not saying thats what we did because there were some bright spots. We did some good things early.
The Panthers drove into the red zone on their first two series against the Saints, but they settled for field goals both times. New Orleans rattled off 31 consecutive points including a 21-point, second-quarter avalanche that decided the game.
Given time to throw, Drew Brees passed for 313 yards and four touchdowns against a Panthers secondary that has given up an alarming number of big plays during recent weeks.
Brees had seven completions covering 18 yards or more. Cam Newtons longest completion was a 17-yarder to Steve Smith for the Panthers touchdown.
After Miami receiver Mike Wallace beat cornerback Captain Munnerlyn twice during the Panthers Nov.24 win, Rivera threatened to make changes in the secondary. But he has stuck with the same group that has dubbed itself the No-Name Secondary because of their perceived lack of star power.
Rivera said the Panthers have options behind corners Melvin White, Drayton Florence and Munnerlyn, although no backup has done enough in practice to prove he deserves more playing time.
Plus, Rivera said the breakdowns against the Saints extended beyond the secondary. Carolina sacked Brees only twice, with the defensive end tandem of Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson combining for none.
Brees also found a lot of holes between the linebackers and the safeties.
It wasnt necessarily all just the secondary, Rivera said. There were some pass rush things that could have helped as well, some underneath coverage that we could have gotten a little bit better out of the linebackers.
As I like to tell the guys, this was not just this group or that unit. This was a team loss.
Defensive tackle Colin Cole said the front four which has been able to generate pressure out of its base scheme most of the season failed to do so Sunday.
We werent able to get enough of a push up front, myself particularly, Cole said. Brees definitely got the ball off pretty well. But they used a lot of six- , seven-man protections. They used the tight end to chip our ends quite a bit, and we didnt do enough to offset that.
Newton completed 22 of 34 passes, but he managed only 7.3 yards per completion and was sacked five times. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula said Newton at times gave up on his first read too quickly, disrupting the timing of the play and causing the pocket to collapse.
We played a great team, a playoff-caliber team, and its a great measuring stick for who we are and where we have to go, Newton said. The best thing about this is we have an opportunity to face this same team in two weeks. But our focus is not on that right now. Our focus is on the New York Jets.
The Jets (6-7) remain in the AFC wild-card hunt and are coming off a 37-27 win against Oakland that halted a three-game losing streak. In the game preceding their losing skid, the Jets overcame a 382-yard passing performance by Brees to beat the Saints 26-20 on Nov. 3.
You most certainly dont want to look past your next opponent, especially the Jets coming off a win. Theyre a physical football team and do some creative stuff on both sides of the ball. Weve got to be on top of our game, Rivera said. This is a football team thats riding a little bit of a high. Theyre still in the mix of everything, just like we are. So this should be a very competitive game.
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