Seemingly desperate move leaves Panthers in desperate need of win

DETROIT -- It had a feeling of desperation for the Carolina Panthers.

Kick the extra point for the tie with 1:07 left in regulation, and put the game in the hands of the defense to force overtime against the struggling Detroit Lions. Show confidence in kicker Graham Gano, even though he’d already missed an extra point and 34-yard field goal.

Ron Rivera chose to go for two.

He put the game in the hands of star quarterback Cam Newton in an attempt to steal a much-needed road victory and put the hangover of last week’s 52-21 primetime loss at Pittsburgh in what the coach called the “s--- happens" category.

Newton had all day to find an open target or run for the conversion. Jarius Wright broke free over the middle. Newton didn’t get his feet set and badly overthrew the 5-foot-10 wide receiver.

Final score: Lions 20, Panthers 19.

Now a Carolina team that was 6-2 and looking like a lock for the playoffs is 6-4 and 1-4 on the road. The feeling of desperation on the two-point conversion might be turning into a feeling of desperation for the season, as the Panthers are three games back of the New Orleans Saints (9-1) in the NFC South and in a logjam for a wild-card spot.

“It was a good opportunity for us to create some cushion in the division and just getting a much-needed road win," Newton said. “We’ve just got to be better. We’ve got to be better."

Rivera said he simply was going for the win. Nothing more.

But it still had the feel of desperation, of a coach trying to turn around a season, as Rivera did in 2013, when he gambled twice on fourth down at Minnesota to earn the nickname “Riverboat Ron."

It worked out that day, as the Panthers rallied from a 1-3 start to a 12-4 record. But that gamble wasn’t at the end with the game on the line like this was.

“I went for two to win the football game, OK?" Rivera said when pressed on whether his decision had anything to do with Gano’s misses earlier. “And that's all I'm gonna say about it. That was my mindset.

“We didn't come here to tie. We didn't come here to lose. We came here to win the football game. And I just felt that was our best opportunity to win."

Newton defended Rivera’s decision. He wanted the ball in his hands. He’d directed two fourth-quarter touchdown drives and felt like he and the offense couldn’t be stopped.

But statistics said that even if the play was successful, the Lions with three timeouts still had time to get in position for a winning field goal.

We’ll never know because Newton didn’t make a good throw.

“I’ve got to make that play," said Newton, who completed 25 of 37 passes for 357 yards and three touchdowns despite five drops by wide receiver Devin Funchess. “I’ve got to make that play. Jarius did a good job of improvising. I’ve just got to make that play. I’ve got to make the play.

“[Rivera] trusted in me. I’ve got to uphold my end of the bargain. I didn’t do that. I let this team down. I’ve got to be better."

Carolina’s first series of the second half summed up how this season is starting to go.

It began with Newton completing a pass to rookie wide receiver DJ Moore on third-and-10 from his own 6. Moore got away from the initial tackler.

Then arguably the fastest player on the roster was chased down from behind by cornerback Darius Slay at the Detroit 12 after an 82-yard pickup.

Three plays later, Newton, as he was known to do much of his career before this season, held on to the ball and took a sack for a 12-yard loss on third-and-2 from the 4.

Then Gano, who kicked a 63-yard winning field goal earlier this season to beat the New York Giants, missed a 34-yarder.

What should have been a positive series turned into a negative.

“Today was an indication of guys taking turns making mistakes," Newton said. “That’s unacceptable. The caliber team we are, the caliber team we know we can be, the caliber team we need to be, that’s just unacceptable.

“Perfect example: the two-point conversion. I’ve got to make that play."

The good news for the Panthers is their next game is against Seattle (5-5) at home, where they are 5-0. The bad news is Seattle is coming off an impressive victory against Green Bay, and Carolina’s next two games after that are at Tampa Bay and Cleveland.

But there are issues that have to be addressed. The offensive line that was so impressive protecting Newton during the first eight games gave up three sacks against a Detroit team that has been average at pressuring the quarterback. The defensive front didn’t get a sack until the fourth quarter against a line that had given up 16 sacks the past two games.

Carolina is in such dire need of an edge pass rush that defensive end Marquis Haynes, who has been inactive all but one game, was on the field for Matthew Stafford's winning touchdown pass to Kenny Golladay on third-and-10 from the 19.

That, too, felt like desperation. But not like the two-point conversion.

“It’s so disappointing when you invested so much time and energy in something, and you don’t get the outcome you want," Newton said. “I just know our time is going to come where the favor is in our court. I’m not saying we didn’t have opportunities today, 'cause we did.

“That’s what’s most disappointing. I had an opportunity, and I didn’t capitalize on it."