By Steve Silverman
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The Jets are going to see the best the Carolina Panthers have to offer.
No, not because Santonio Holmes offered a slight criticism of the Carolina secondary, which he said was not quite at the level of their front seven.
The Panthers return home after getting hammered by the New Orleans Saints and seeing their eight-game winning streak go down the tubes.
It’s not just the end of the winning streak that will assure that the Panthers come with their top effort. No, they are getting pushed hard by their coaching staff this week.
Head coach Ron Rivera was on the hot seat at the start of the season. It was something of an upset that he was not fired at the end of the 2012 season. The Panthers were a 7-9 team and they left observers with the bad taste of underachievement in their mouths.
It was just his second season, but there was the feeling that the job was just too big for Rivera. He certainly understood defense as well as any coach in the league and had earned his spurs as a coach with Philadelphia, Chicago and San Diego, but there was a growing feeling that the head coaching position was too much for him.
What was Rivera going to do about the Carolina offense? What could he do to get through to enigmatic quarterback Cam Newton?
Rivera is all about defense and Newton is obviously on the other side of the ball. But Newton did not appear to be a student of the game. Rivera did not have someone with the dedication of Peyton Manning working with him.
Somehow, Rivera had to find a way to get through to this talented athlete and get him to work with the team and not just to enhance his own reputation.
That’s just what happened. The Panthers were at a crisis point at the start of the season. After losing their first two games, it all came together in Week Three when they whipped the Giants 38-0. That appeared to be a turning point for them as they went on a bye.
However, they came back from that week off and got beaten badly by the Arizona Cardinals. It was the kind of loss that could have signaled the end for Rivera, but that’s when he started getting through to Newton.
It was a matter of getting the quarterback to understand that he had to keep it simple if the Panthers were going to compete and win. It was about reading his progressions and looking for the open man, rather than making plays with his feet or simply showing off his arm strength.
Rivera was able to get his message through that Newton didn’t have to do it on his own. He could throw the ball to Steve Smith, Greg Olsen and Brandon LaFell and they could make big plays for him. He also had a solid running game with DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert.
Williams was still capable of getting into the secondary while Tolbert could block, handle short-yardage running assignments and catch third-down passes.
Newton was on the verge of panic and losing his stature as an up-and-coming young quarterback, but Rivera let him know that it was all right there in front of him.
Newton took a deep breath, found a way to stay calm and started playing excellent football in leading the Panthers on their winning streak. When they defeated the 49ers and Patriots in back-to-back weeks, it was clear that they had arrived.
Losing to the Saints last week hurt, but it was not unexpected. The Panthers will get their chance at revenge next week, but that game won’t matter for the division title if they can’t beat the Jets this week.
That’s why Rivera and his coaches have been all over his players. They do not want the season to fall apart after all the progress that has been made.
In a season of hard lessons, the Jets’ rookie may take serious punishment this week as the Panthers come with their “A” game.
They are simply too strong and too good for the Jets, and this game should be over early.
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