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The Panthers sat at 6-2, one game behind the Saints in the NFC South and firmly holding the first Wild Card spot. They were heading into a highly anticipated Thursday Night Football game on the road in Pittsburgh. They proceeded to get blasted 52-21. No biggie, they're still 6-3 going on the road to a terrible Detroit team. Despite a phenomenal game from Cam Newton (25/37 357 yds, 3 TD) the Panthers lost 20-19. Coming into a very big, playoff-implicating game at home, they lost on a last-second field goal despite monster games from Cam Newton (83 comp.

percentage and 256 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Christian McCaffrey (125 rushing yards, 112 receiving yards and 2 TD).

The first loss was a dud on the road after a short rest against a good team.

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The following two are inexcusable. The Lions were 3-6 and just frankly not a good football team. The Seahawks were in Bank of America Stadium and got thoroughly outplayed in most offensive statistical categories. Carolina led in total yards, yards per play, sacks given up, rushing yards, and committed fewer penalties. Panthers lost.

What happened

After giving up a bad touchdown, on 4th down at the 35-yard line with 3:26 remaining, the Panthers received the ball and crossed midfield with over two minutes left. Rivera then elected, as he tends to do in close games, to play for an FG with little time remaining. It's what they call "playing not to lose". A three-yard run, incompletion, and a four-yard catch set up a 52-yard kick from Graham Gano, Wide Right.

This gave Seattle the ball with 1:40 only really needing about 20-30 yards to set up a field goal.

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And on 3rd and 5, Seattle burned Captain Munnerlyn for 43 yards. Seattle ran the clock down and nailed the kick.

The loss drops Carolina from firmly in the fifth spot and first Wild Card, to eighth and on the outside looking in. If the Panthers have any hopes of sniffing the playoffs, they need to turn things around - and fast.

Why a change is desperately needed

For far too long, Ron Rivera coached Panthers teams have played not to lose. In 2013, the Panthers dropped to 0-2 after Rivera elected to play for an FG that put them up by six against Buffalo under two minutes, who then proceeded to drive down and score with no time left. In 2015, despite going 15-1 and appearing in the Super Bowl, Rivera had games he was lucky to win. Against the Giants, the Panthers built up a 35-7 lead in the fourth quarter. Rivera went conservative and the Giants roared back to tie it 35-35. Cam bailed his coach out once again, however. In the playoffs against Seattle, the Panthers built a 31-0 lead at halftime.

Then, they went conservative as usual and barely held on to win 31-24.

In 2016, they had a 20 point lead against New Orleans in the third quarter, only to give up 17 unanswered, and then barely win. In 2017, Carolina built a 27-10 lead and nearly watched it disintegrate. This season, they've almost blown and blown games because of the conservatism. Carolina led Tampa Bay 35-7 in the second quarter. The Bucs stormed back and made it 35-7 before another touchdown put it out of reach. And finally, against Seattle, after giving up the game-tying touchdown, marched down and elected to play for a long FG instead of going for the win.

You can argue that this loss falls more on Graham Gano simply missing a kick than anything. However, due to the lack of aggression on that drive, had he made the kick it would have been a three-point lead with a minute and a half. And if the final drive is any indication (the only reason Seattle didn't score a touchdown was because that would have left time on the clock), Seattle would have marched down and won the game anyway.

What's more, Carolina has consistently played down to their competition under Rivera. In 2018 alone, they were beaten by an average Washington team because they fell behind by 17. They allowed themselves to play close, with a subpar Detroit Lions team and lost. They had to stage the biggest comeback in franchise history to beat the very mediocre Philadelphia Eagles. The awful Giants would have beaten them if not for a record long game-winning kick. They barely beat Dallas who only scored eight points.

Even worse, Rivera's style is badly outdated. Rivera values experience over talent. The two best receivers on the roster are D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel, a rookie and second-year player, respectively. Yet Rivera continues to give more snaps to veterans Devin Funchess and Torrey Smith, despite them not producing.

He's not wrong. It took injuries to force Rivera to play Moore and Samuel, and as a result, Cam completed 83 percent of his passes.

Additionally, his coaching philosophy is even more outdated. Rivera prides his teams on running the football, controlling the clock and playing great defense. That philosophy, while it was the common ideology up until about two or three years ago, just isn't how the NFL works anymore. Gone are the days of consistently winning games 13-10 with a smothering defense and an elite running game.

Take the most recent Monday Night Football game. 54-51 Rams over Chiefs. Over 1,000 yards of offense combined. But the defense also made big plays as well. There were three defensive touchdowns and seven total turnovers. And that's how you win in today's NFL. Outgun them. Have an elite offense with a defense that has big play capability, and you're set. That's not how Ron Rivera operates though, and maybe that's why his team is 6-5 and on the brink of missing the playoffs.

Eric Washington's defense has been gashed all year long. Norv Turner's playcalling, while at its peak has been very good, has been horribly inconsistent. Ron Rivera hasn't coached particularly well in any game this season. With the Panthers sitting at 6-5 and losers of three straight, someone has to be held accountable. If the Panthers start 6-2 and miss the playoffs, changes could be coming.

Until then, while it's unlikely anyone gets fired, something has to change and fast. Or else the Panthers will waste another year [VIDEO] of the best quarterback in franchise history.

All stats via espn.com and profootball-reference.com.