It felt like 2012 and 2011, like a recurring theme or a recurring nightmare.
Under coach Ron Rivera, the Carolina Panthers rely on an early-season formula.
Play OK, stay close and lose.
It sounds like something out of the playbook.
Play OK, stay close and lose, on two.
The Panthers ran the play in their opener Sunday, losing to Seattle 12-7 at Bank of America Stadium.
Remind you of last season?
“Yes it does, unfortunately,” Rivera says.
Most of the afternoon, Carolina’s pass rush was overwhelming. The defense was so good that after three quarters the Panthers had the game’s only touchdown and led 7-6.
And then it was 2012 and 2011.
The Seahawks opened the fourth quarter by moving 74 yards for their first and only touchdown.
The Panthers responded on their next drive by driving to the Seattle 8. But an impressive run by DeAngelo Williams was negated when Seattle stripped him of the ball.
The Seahawks recovered. From second-and-15 at their 3 they calmly drove to the Carolina 22, converting two third-down opportunities and keeping the ball more than five minutes, keeping it until the game ended.
The Panthers are 0-1, same as last season and the season before. Last season, they started 1-6. In 2011, Rivera’s first season, they started 1-5.
Every act in which Carolina engaged after the 2012 season was a testament to one theory: We will make minimal changes because this is our time. If the Panthers start 1-5 again they’ll be on borrowed time, and Rivera likely will be jettisoned.
Sterling Sharpe, the former Green Bay receiver now with the NFL Network, said if the Panthers lose their first two games, Rivera might be canned.
The man who decided to retain Rivera last season was owner Jerry Richardson; he made the decision before he hired general manager Dave Gettleman. He will make the decision again. Wonder where Richardson and Sharpe have been hanging out or, to use Richardson’s term, visiting.
If you read this column, you know I’m not adept at panic. I think it’s stupid; plus I’m an adult. Even though I went to a public college I know the Panthers have not been mathematically eliminated.
The problem is their recent history. Above Bank of America Stadium on Sunday fans saw sunshine, occasional clouds and heavy inevitability.
Despite the superiority of Carolina’s defense, the Seahawks hung in and stayed close. And because they did, there was, in the bleachers and in front of televisions and radios, a sense of oh, no, not again.
Teams start over every season. Perhaps some traits, like team colors, cling.
Do the Panthers have to beat Buffalo on the road next week? New England needed a field goal with five seconds remaining Sunday to beat Buffalo.
If Carolina starts 0-2, it comes home to play the New York Giants, and after the Giants, the Panthers get a bye. Start 0-3 and perhaps Sharpe will be on to something, albeit a game prematurely.
Like many of his players, Rivera saw qualities in Carolina’s performance he liked.
“You know I’d like to believe we have an opportunity to change (the memories of last season),” he says. “I’d like to believe that definitely we can get these things worked out and get it rolling. Again it’s a good football team we played against but we had opportunity … to beat a team that a lot of people are crowing right now. And you know it should be a wake-up call for us that hey, we can play with anybody and we are most certainly capable, and we’re going to win some football games.”
I ask Rivera how he gets over a loss such as Sunday’s, and he talks about what his players have to do.
I mean you, coach.
“Go right back to work,” Rivera says. “I mean there’s really nothing you can do. … Just try to find the answer. I mean that’s what I’ll continue to do. And we found it last year late and it’s time to find it early. It really is.
“We can’t wait and I understand that and we will certainly find that answer and get rolling.”
The Panthers have to find it the next the two weeks.
They can’t go into October 0-3.
Sorensen: 704-358-5119; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @tomsorensen