As you’ve surely been made aware of by now, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was benched last night at the beginning of his team’s pivotal matchup with the Seattle Seahawks because of a dress code violation. Carolina head coach Ron Rivera apparently took issue with the fact that the always swankily dressed Newton was not wearing a tie with his outfit as the team traveled to the airport to board the flight to Seattle on Saturday.

The decision to bench Cam for the opening series proved to be costly for Rivera, as Seattle picked off fill-in quarterback Derek Anderson’s pass on the first play from scrimmage and, soon after, turned it into a field goal for an early 3-0 lead. From there, Seattle proceeded to embarrass the Panthers 40-7, dropping the defending NFC champions to 4-8 and virtually ending their hopes of earning a playoff bid in the process.

Make no mistake: the Carolina Panthers are in the midst of perhaps the most disappointing season in the history of the NFL. There has never been a team this hyped and this talented that has inexplicably fallen flat like the Panthers have. Carolina went 15-1 last regular season and will probably finish under .500 this regular season. And the Panthers are actually younger and healthier than they were last season. Even with reigning MVP Newton doing everything that he can to keep the Panthers afloat, the Carolina offense is absolutely putrid, and the defense is even worse.

Naturally, the head coach should be the one to take the blame for this collapse. “Riverboat” Ron Rivera has been far from ingenious this season, looking as inept as he did prior to last season’s somewhat stunning turnaround. And if the Panthers don’t finish out the regular season strongly, Rivera could get axed.

So what in God’s name made Rivera think that it was smart to bench Newton for the opening drive of a must-win primetime game over something as frivolous as breaking dress code? I, for one, am not a big fan of Newton’s gawdy outfits and odd fashion statements, but going so far as to publicly reprimand and embarrass a grown-ass man who is the heart and soul of the team because of it is a major misfire by Rivera.

I mean, for one, Newton was wearing a turtleneck. And, last I checked, ties don’t go with turtlenecks. Second of all, it wasn’t like Newton’s replacement was an up-and-coming quarterback with solid potential. It was perennial backup Derek freakin’ Anderson, who’s as washed up as a beached whale. Thirdly, even if Newton were a college quarterback, being punished that severely for something that stupid would be a bit much. But a 27-year-old NFL quarterback? Hard to swallow. Impossible, even.

Rivera has gained a reputation for being a hard-nosed coach, just like he was as a player, but sticking to his rigid principles might end up costing him his job. Newton probably chuckled under his breath when Anderson threw a pick on the very first play and will probably guffaw out loud if Rivera receives a pink slip next month. Because at least Newton cares about winning, and, based on the austere punishment that he dished out, Rivera does not. And for that reason, above every other dumb move that Rivera has made since taking over at Carolina, Ron Rivera is a certified moron.

Again, this isn’t college. There are no life lessons involved with playing in the NFL. It’s a business, and, if we’re being honest, wins and losses are all that truly matter. So for Rivera to try and make a point to his superstar quarterback by suspending him for a possession because he didn’t wear a tie is woefully ignorant. And, although he claimed to support Rivera’s decision in his postgame press conference last night, Newton assuredly didn’t appreciate it. Can you imagine being a 27-year-old and getting benched for not wearing a tie on the team bus? Wouldn’t you lose all respect for your superior?

Sure, Rivera had every right to bench Newton. It’s his dress code policy, so kudos to him for being so overbearing about it. But what Rivera needs to understand is that he’s not worth much in the eyes of Panthers management. On the other hand, Newton, the most talented quarterback in all of football, is Carolina’s most precious commodity.

So if Cam doesn’t feel comfortable playing for curmudgeonly Rivera anymore, Panthers ownership will gladly oblige in firing Rivera in the blink of an eye. Because this season has been a downright embarrassment for the Panthers, and Rivera only added to it by needlessly benching the face of the franchise in the team’s most pivotal game of the season.

If Cam had played the entire game, instead of standing helplessly on the sideline for the opening drive, perhaps the Panthers wouldn’t have been demolished like they were. I guess we’ll never know. More importantly, I guess Rivera will never know, either. And he might be forced to live with not knowing if he loses his job in the coming weeks. Maybe then, he’ll decide that benching the best player in franchise history for not donning a necktie just wasn’t worth it. Maybe then, Rivera will discover that he’s a moron.