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Rivera concerned about Panthers' mental state, but not from Tiegate

"Right now, it's about the mental health of the team," Ron Rivera said. "It's been disappointing. It has. Expectations were high." Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera is concerned about the mental state of his team, and it has nothing to do with the continued backlash over punishing quarterback Cam Newton for a team dress code violation.

It has everything to do with Carolina's 4-8 record 10 months after going to the Super Bowl.

"Right now, it's about the mental health of the team," Rivera said Monday. "It's been disappointing. It has. Expectations were high."

This may have been lost in what has to be the silliest story of the NFL season, which was Newton being benched for the first series of Sunday night's loss to Seattle for not wearing a tie on the flight a day earlier.

This story took on a life of its own, particularly after Newton said he'd worn a similar look before and not been punished.

Deadspin picked it up. TMZ Sports dug up a video in which it appeared Rivera was giving Newton the news. National talk shows led their broadcasts with this.

The New England Patriots once had their Spygate.

Now the Panthers have Tiegate.

Rivera is right to be concerned about the mental state of his team. The disappointment has been building for weeks, and it came to a head with a 40-7 loss that all but mathematically eliminated Carolina from making a fourth straight trip to the playoffs.

To mix that in with taking on the quarterback -- the reigning league MVP -- over a fashion faux pas could be dangerous territory.

Owners don't typically fire the star player.

They fire the coach.

This isn't to suggest Rivera's job is in jeopardy. You have to respect that he was willing to treat Newton like everyone else, even though he expected, in his words, the "feeding frenzy" that followed.

Rivera insisted there was no ulterior motive or underlying intent behind the decision other than it was a violation of a team rule. He recounted the five core values -- hard work, harmony, teamwork, listen, respect -- that team owner Jerry Richardson demands.

He said the story has been blown out of proportion, and it probably has when you consider the time spent talking about the quarterback of a 4-8 team.

One also has to remember that Rivera came from a military background in which codes and rules are at the core of his beliefs.

"You can be who you are," Rivera said. "You can keep your personality, but you've got to keep it within that framework."

Rivera says he's not concerned about a fallout in the locker room over his decision involving Newton. Only time will tell.

Rivera said his focus is on winning the next four weeks against San Diego, Washington, Atlanta and Tampa Bay. He has no other choice.

There eventually will be fallout, but it will come from the team's record, not Newton's travel attire.

Players that were the core of the magical 2015 season will be let go or simply not re-signed. Fullback Mike Tolbert has to be nervous, particularly after fumbling on the first play of Sunday night's loss.

Running back Jonathan Stewart has to be nervous. He turns 30 in March, and general manager Dave Gettleman cited age and production as reasoning for letting DeAngelo Williams go after the 2014 season.

An assistant coach or two might be fired. A coordinator might be sent walking.

These typically are the repercussions of a bad record, particularly from a team with high expectations. This is why Rivera is concerned about the mental state of his team more than what pundits are saying about his decision with Newton.

"We all had grand expectations," Rivera said. "Shoot, I really wanted to get back to the Super Bowl and win it. I'm not going to back off that. I made that statement earlier in the year and I still believe we had an opportunity, but we just didn't capitalize."