CHARLOTTE — A failure to win close games and an underachieving offense have shattered the high preseason expectations and left the coachs job in jeopardy, even after a surprising win Sunday against a quality opponent.
Thats the storyline for not only the Panthers Ron Rivera, but Riveras former employer.
When Rivera returns to San Diego this weekend to face the Chargers and former boss Norv Turner, it will be a matchup of friends trying to save their jobs.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reported last week that Turner and general manager A.J. Smith would be fired at the end of the season. Chargers owner Dean Spanos shot down the report in a team-issued statement.
Panthers owner Jerry Richardson fired general manager Marty Hurney during October and told Rivera the team needed to trend upward over the second half of the season for Rivera to return, according to Rivera.
This was not the homecoming Rivera envisioned when the NFL schedule came out in April.
I know theyre struggling, Rivera said Monday. Our seasons kind of mirror each other. Expectations were a lot higher. We had some bad, crazy things happen. I do look forward to going back to San Diego. Its an opportunity to play against a good football team.
Rivera spent four seasons under Turner the final two-plus as defensive coordinator before becoming the Panthers coach before the 2011 season. Rivera has two former Chargers assistants on his staff offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and secondary coach Steve Wilks as well as Turners son, Scott, the Panthers offensive quality control coach.
Rivera said he speaks with Norv Turner a couple of times a month, although he does not expect to talk to him this week until just before the game Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.
Im very fond of Norv. He gave me my opportunity again and I really do appreciate everything hes done for me, Rivera said. He is a very good coach. It is going to be weird to be on the other sideline, having been in San Diego for four seasons. I really enjoyed coaching there. Its a good organization, a lot of good people there.
Both teams are coming off big wins. The Panthers (4-9) scored on their first five possessions and went on to beat Atlanta 30-20, snapping a five-game losing streak to the Falcons while handing them their second loss.
San Diego (5-8) jumped to a 27-3 lead against Pittsburgh and knocked off the Steelers 34-24 to spoil Ben Roethlisbergers first game in nearly a month.
They played very well against Pittsburgh, Rivera said. If we both carry this momentum into the game, we should have a good football game. It should be a very exciting game.
Neither team has been able to finish games. San Diego blew a pair of double-digit, second-half leads in consecutive October losses, including a 35-24 defeat to Denver in a Monday night game the Chargers led 24-0 at halftime.
San Diego is 0-5 in games decided by seven points or fewer.
The Panthers had their own meltdowns. They lost in the final minute at Atlanta and coughed up an 11-point, fourth-quarter lead to Tampa Bay in a 27-21 overtime loss. Carolina is 0-7 in games decided by seven points or fewer this season, and 1-12 in such games under Rivera.
Thats why Sundays win against the Falcons was equal parts satisfying and frustrating.
Man, if we could play like this all year our offense throwing points, our defense shutting the running game down, and the secondary. We contained those guys, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. If we could have done this all year, we could be 11-1. We want to win the rest of them and see what happens.
Rivera said he planned to pound that message into his players this week.
A lot of them said it, The disappointing thing is thats what we can be, Rivera said.
One of you (reporters) asked the question or made the statement we have found (offensive) balance. We have. Unfortunately, we didnt do it sooner. We just didnt finish our games that we should have.
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