SEATTLE -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the decision to sit quarterback Cam Newton for the first series on Sunday night for not wearing a tie on the team flight to Seattle a day earlier was "completely" his.
He said the decision was made because he treats all players the same.
He said the punishment was based on just one incident.
He didn’t want to make more of it, which made it feel like there was more to make of it -- particularly after Newton’s explanation as to why he wore a black turtleneck and jacket instead of a dress shirt and tie.
The NFL MVP said he didn’t have the proper attire to change into because he sent the rest of his clothes home from the 10-day trip on Friday just as the rest of the team did. He said he was caught off-guard when he was told moments prior to loading the bus for the airport that he was in violation of team policy.
He reminded that at 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, he can't easily borrow or buy clothes at the last second.
He said it felt like "I wore a similar outfit as this before and nothing was done."
"But he has rules in place, and we have to abide by them, and no person is greater than the next person," Newton said of Rivera.
The organization has enabled Newton for much of the past five seasons. This seemed to be a draw-the-line-in-the-sand moment even though it was over something as small as a tie.
Rivera’s task now is to make sure it doesn’t become a bigger issue. When a team with high expectations is 4-8, sometimes the smallest of things can lead to a coach and a staff losing the locker room.
When the small thing happens to the face of the organization, it can appear bigger than it might really be.
None of Newton’s teammates wanted to touch his fashion mistake after the 40-7 spanking by the Seahawks. They either referred reporters to Rivera’s comments or declined to comment at all.
Backup quarterback Derek Anderson, who made Newton's punishment brief because he threw an interception on the game’s first play, simply said Rivera "did what he needed to do."
Anderson also said he had a good talk with Newton on Saturday night and added, "I’m behind him 100 percent."
"Unfortunate situation, but we’re moving on," he said. "Ron handled it, and we have a lot of things to correct."
But in order to correct them, Rivera has to remain in control of the locker room. One of his strengths since being hired in 2011 has been just that. He has found ways to keep players motivated and working to improve during tough times.
His first five teams all finished on hot streaks, even when they didn’t start so hot.
But holding this team together might be Rivera’s greatest challenge. Injuries to the offensive line already are catastrophic with no quick fix in sight.
Defensive leader Luke Kuechly has missed consecutive games with a concussion, and there are no guarantees he will be back for Sunday’s home game against San Diego.
With the team all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, one could make a case to sit the Pro Bowl middle linebacker the rest of the season since he’s missed multiple games with a concussion in consecutive seasons.
Rivera says the goal is to win the final four games. He has no choice but to say that.
He also says he doesn’t plan to bench veterans and play young players as he did two years ago when the team was 3-8-1 with four games remaining, because he’s more focused on the present than the future.
There really aren’t a lot of young player options at this point, anyway.
The 2014 team got better. It won the final four games and won the weak NFC South.
This season could get worse before it gets better. That could lead to changes in the coaching staff. Rivera should be safe with two NFL Coach of the Year Awards in the past three seasons, but few others are if this continues.
Somebody typically has to be the fall guy for bad seasons when expectations are as high as Carolina’s were.
Tight end Greg Olsen summed it up best, noting, "We’re just not very good right now."
He’s right. The defense gave up 534 yards, a whopping 240 on the ground. This unit is predicated on stopping the run first.
The offense managed just 271 yards and a season-low seven points. Newton was held to 182 yards passing and 12 yards rushing.
None of this seemed possible coming off last year's magical season.
So what was supposed to be a 10-day player-bonding experience between games in Oakland and Seattle, a chance to get into position to make a playoff run ended in disaster.
The Panthers went home with a pair of losses, and some from the outside world are wondering if Rivera made the right decision to bench Newton over a tie.
Or if there was more to the decision than a travel dress code.