CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- An NFL season can be broken down into quarters.
In the first quarter of 2019, the Panthers lost their starting quarterback and still managed to go 2-2. In the second, Carolina shined, winning three of its next four games.
But in the just completed third quarter, the Panthers went 0-4, including Sunday's loss to previously 2-9 Washington.
Now Carolina has four games left to prove what this football team is capable of. After playing 12 games and going 5-7, coach Ron Rivera acknowledged that the time for saying the team is still growing has passed.
"This football team is a good young football team, it is developing and growing, but that's no excuse," Rivera said. "As I said, people talk about the process, it's a process. But the process has to be over at some point and time. You can keep talking about the process, you're just handicapping yourself because you're giving yourself an excuse. Now is no longer a time for a process, we're well into the last phase of the season, we've got to buck it up and step it up and play football."
The Panthers feature a young quarterback in Kyle Allen, who has been developing throughout the season, as evidenced by his play in New Orleans a week ago, but then his rollercoaster-type season was on display once again vs. Washington. They have an inexperienced kicker in Joey Slye and an offensive line, which has been reshuffled many times, that includes two rookies.
Rivera likes to say that it takes about 5,000 snaps for a young player to feel comfortable, but Carolina can't use that as an excuse for disappointing finishes in December, as he alluded to. At some point, even a young team needs to have grown enough to win those games.
As the defense especially continues to struggle, rumors about Rivera's future only continue to mount. The mood surrounding the Panthers has subdued, and the number of reasons for why Carolina fell short against Washington could go on and on. Instead of shying away from how tough the loss is, the coach was blunt Monday.
"The truth of the matter is every loss you take personally," Rivera said. "I take (it) personally because I feel like I let a lot of people down. Do I sleep well? No, I don't. Do I think about a lot of things? Absolutely. Do I know how I get to work in the morning after a loss? No. All I know is I got in the car and next thing you know I'm at the stadium.
"Every one of them grinds me and that's the way it is because I feel responsible. So I do lose a lot of sleep, and like I said, I do think about a lot of things to try and get things correct."