Panthers owner Jerry Richardson hasn’t made himself available for public comment since he fired general manager Marty Hurney following Carolina’s 1-5 start. But coach Ron Rivera has said several times that Richardson has said the team needs to be “trending upward” for Rivera to be retained for 2013.
The Panthers were up – way, way up – on Sunday in their 30-20 win over Atlanta. For the Panthers (4-9) to absolutely outplay an Atlanta team that was 11-1 coming in is almost as inconceivable as it was for the Panthers to get outplayed by a 1-10 Kansas City team the week before.
I still figure the odds are against Rivera’s return in 2013, but this was the sort of game that at least gives him a fighting chance. If the Panthers can win their final three games of the season in a similar way, Richardson’s decision would be more difficult. If this was a one-game anomaly, however – and remember, the Panthers haven’t won two games in a row all season – Rivera will surely be gone.
• This was amazing: At halftime, the Panthers led 16-0 and had outgained Atlanta 270-35. It was the best half I’ve seen the team play in Rivera’s 29-game tenure (the coach is 10-19).
• Fox Sports play-by-play man Gus Johnson had a nice line on Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith, calling him “eternally angry.” Smith (109 receiving yards) playfully addressed his demeanor after the game, saying: “First of all, there’s nothing good. I’m running around in tight pants and people are trying to hit me. ... For me, smiling takes more energy. Frowning is just easier to do.”
• It was a nice – if a bit weird – moment with Rivera in the postgame when he choked up and left his press conference abruptly while describing how much Thomas Davis, who was given a game ball Sunday, meant to the team. I think part of what has tied Rivera so emotionally to Davis is that Rivera was also a linebacker during his NFL career and understands how difficult coming back from three ACL tears on the same knee has to be.
• I thought the officials blew the call on Roddy White’s two-point conversion, which I believed was a catch. It would have closed the gap to 23-15 in the fourth quarter. That was a huge play, since the ruled incompletion meant it stayed a two-possession game at 23-13.
• I wish official Ed Hochuli was miked up all the time for NFL games. He inadvertently left his microphone twice Sunday, once remarking that Falcons receiver Julio Jones had made a “helluva catch.” On another play, Hochuli had a brief conversation with another official that included the words: “Big series here,” and “Yeah, no kidding. You’ve got to do something now.”