CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers have to find a way to close out games if they're ever going to take the next step as a football team.
So far that hasn't happened.
The Panthers (0-2) surrendered a fourth quarter lead for the second straight week, losing in heartbreaking fashion when Stevie Johnson caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from EJ Manuel with 2 seconds left to lift the Buffalo Bills to a 24-23 win Sunday.
"It's time to get over the hump," Rivera said Monday. "We've been through this — and that is the thing that is disheartening. You'd like to believe that we've gotten to the point where we've learned from these things and now it's about getting things done."
Since Rivera took over as head coach in 2011, the Panthers have lost 10 games they've held a lead in the fourth quarter — which is tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for the most in the league, according to STATS INC.
The loss brings up more questions about Rivera's job security.
The third-year coach said he hasn't spoken with owner Jerry Richardson since the latest loss dropped his career record to 2-14 in games decided by 7 points or less.
Rivera said he's not worried about his job — even as a growing number of fans are calling for Richardson to replace him.
The coach appeared frustrated at times during his press conference Monday as the normally upbeat coach lamented the latest one that got away.
"I don't blame him," center Ryan Kalil said. "I'm (upset) too."
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said that sense of deja vu is extremely frustrating, particularly with how hard the team is working.
"It seems like right now we're just stuck in the mud," Olsen said. "And you have to change it. You can't sit back and say you need more breaks to go your way. In this league you need to make your own breaks. The good teams make luck and the bad teams make bad fortune."
The Panthers have played well enough against Seattle and Buffalo to win, but haven't made the plays when they needed them.
On Sunday the Panthers had chances to score touchdowns in the fourth quarter — two of those after Manuel turnovers — but settled for three field goals.
The last one gave Carolina a 23-17 lead with 1:38 left.
All Carolina's defense only had to do was stop Manuel from going 80 yards with no timeouts and scoring a touchdown.
They couldn't do it.
"We have to find a way to make a play on the last drives," Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said.
The task won't get any easier moving forward — the Panthers announced Monday lost starting free safety Charles Godfrey to a season-ending Achilles injury.
Olsen said the Panthers can't allow a defeatist attitude to get inside their heads in the fourth quarter.
"All of the focus can't be on, 'Man we just need to hang on,'" Olsen said.
But how do you fix it?
Rivera said getting a comfortable lead and having a killer instinct would certainly be a start.
"It would be nice to be in position where you close games out and don't a have to worry about last drive or the last play," Rivera said. "We talked to the guys about how if you have somebody down you have to keep them down."
Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula said the experience has been "testing" on the nerves.
"In my opinion we don't deserve to be 0-2," Shula said.
But they are.
Still, Shula isn't worried about the Panthers going in the tank and starting 2-8 like it has the last two seasons.
"Maybe in years past, but for whatever reason this year with this group I don't worry about it," Shula said. "I know it doesn't make sense right now being 0-2, but veteran guys have taken ownership of this thing" and will get it corrected.
Like the Panthers, the Giants are 0-2, which makes this a big game for both teams.
Olsen said the Panthers don't feel desperate for a win, but there is a clear sense of urgency to get to 1-2 before the bye week.
"I don't think we're in panic mode," Olsen said. "We know what we're capable of. But the results need to change and it's up to us to change the outcome."
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