Bryan Strickland Senior Writer
CHARLOTTE – The morning after Sunday’s stunning loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Panthers safety Haruki Nakamura got his hair cut down to the roots.
This Sunday, Nakamura hopes to avoid a similarly hair-raising day when he continues in his role as starter against the Seattle Seahawks.
“The fact that they’re sticking with me means a lot,” Nakamura said. “I made some big mistakes, and unfortunately it changed the outcome. I take full responsibility for those errors, and I just have to improve as a football player.”
Nakamura started the first three games of the season at free safety with little fanfare but was thrust into the spotlight Sunday.
Early on, it was for his interception of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in the end zone. But in the bitter end from the Panthers’ perspective, it was for getting beat on a 59-yard pass from Ryan to wide receiver Roddy White that set up the game-winning field goal.
“It was just stupid football,” Nakamura said Wednesday. “Look at the situation, with them backed up at the 1-yard line. Play deeper. There’s only one way they can get downfield that fast, and that’s the deep ball.
“Unfortunately, I played it the wrong way.”
The hours after the loss were difficult.
“I really don’t read much in the media, but my family does,” said Nakamura, who was raised by his mother after his father died of lung cancer when Nakamura was age 5. “My mom still loves me. She’s always been there for me.
“Families support you in hard times, and Sunday was a hard time. But I’m over it and ready to move on.”
Nakamura’s football family came to his defense right away, and that continued Tuesday when defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and passing defense coordinator Steve Wilks asked him to stop by the stadium on his day off. During their meeting, the coaches told him he’d start against the Seahawks.
“It was one game, one set of circumstances,” Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. “There were 164 plays in that game. There weren’t 163 perfect ones.
“To do a complete turnaround, I don’t know that it’s warranted. We’re going to continue to work and continue to try to get better as a football team.”
The Panthers signed Nakamura in the offseason after he spent his first four NFL seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. He said the Panthers brought him in with the expectation that he would be a leader and a difference maker.
His leadership qualities have shone through since Sunday’s setback. Going forward, he wants to be a difference maker as well.
“They expect more out of me,” Nakamura said. “This is the NFL. This isn’t favorites. This is a business. They’ll bring the next guy in. That’s just the nature of the business.
“The fans deserve better. The team deserves better. I’m putting in a lot of work to change those things.”