Carolina had just recovered their own fumble at mid-field on a third down running play by quarterback Cam Newton. Newton had clearly crossed the first down marker on the play, but the only problem was the football didn’t make the trip with him.
Although, the Panthers avoided making a big mistake by recovering Newton’s fumble, the issue was they were still short of a game ending first down.
Here lies the situation Panthers head coach Ron Rivera found himself and his team in. With the Panthers just shy of a first down and in need of an early season defining win, Rivera had a major decision to make.
Punt the football with a minute left to play and pin the Falcons on their own goal line? Or go for it on fourth down and end the game once and for all?
Two options laid out for Rivera; two options that could backfire either way he chose to go.
Rivera chose to punt, leaving the game in the hands of his defense that had been playing remarkably well the entire game.
The rest is history Panthers players and fans will soon want to forget.
Carolina did pin the Falcons and quarterback Matt Ryan on his own one yard line, however Ryan would step up and make a career defining throw 59 yards down field to receiver Roddy White. White made the catch and the Falcons would eventually cap it all off with a 40 yard field goal to take the win, 30-28.
Let the blame game begin.
Newton’s fumble was the first mistake and he did address it with the media, shouldering all of the blame. Though, Rivera’s decision not to go for it on fourth down has become more and more a topic of discussion amongst fans and even players as the week has gone by.
Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell joined The Mac Attack earlier in the week on WFNZ Radio in Charlotte to discuss his head coach’s decision publicly.
“It’s fourth and inches, we’ve got Mike Tolbert, we’ve got Jonathan Stewart, some of the best power backs in the league,” Lafell said. “I felt like we could have got that yard. And I didn’t want to put our defense in that situation, because we should have won the game right there with that possession.”
LaFell adding, “I felt like it came down to the offense to win that game, and we should have won that game. And we just gave it away like that…it just hurts.”
Prior to Lafell making his feelings towards Rivera’s decision known to the world, Rivera defended his decision post game saying, “not at all” in response to a question of if he regretted choosing to punt on fourth down.
”I think if you sit there and you go for it and you get it, great. But if you go for it and don’t get it they’re in better position [to score],” Rivera said. “It worked out with the ball on the 1 and that’s as good as it gets. You’d like to believe you’re able to prevent them [from scoring] at that point.”
Whether Rivera’s decision was right or wrong, he is correct when implying that its one of those decisions that can come back to haunt a head coach.
If Carolina goes for the first down and doesn’t get it, then everyone would be singing a different tune.
The fact remains the Panthers are now 1-3 on the young season. Before the decision to punt on fourth down, the Panthers were 1-2 on the season.
Looking back, the right choice would have been to go for it. Carolina had little to lose and if they got the first down then it could have given them a jolt of momentum for success going forward.
Then again, looking back is never a good thing in the NFL.
Robert Kester, Carolina Panthers Columnist. Follow @robertkester1.