One win. Five losses.
The Carolina Panthers’ nightmarish downfall continued Sunday in a 41-38 loss to New Orleans. Carolina lost its fourth straight game – and its second in the past six days on a last-second field goal.
I’ve seen it, and I still don’t quite believe it. A Panthers team that went 15-1 last season is 1-5. For every one thing that goes right, five more go wrong.
It’s a bad look, and not just on the field. Carolina’s team motto has long been “Keep Pounding,” but Cam Newton’s 90-second news conference after this one had more of a “Keep Pouting” feel.
It was 90 seconds long – a minute shorter than his infamous post-Super Bowl news conference – and filled with answers like “Next question” and “Just got to find ways to win football games.”
Before that, Newton had actually been incredible. In a 21-point Carolina fourth quarter, he finished the comeback from a 21-0 first-half deficit. Newton threw for 322 yards, passed for two touchdowns and ran for another. His two-point conversion pass to Devin Funchess – after Graham Gano’s nasty extra-point miss earlier in the quarter – allowed Carolina to tie the game at 38-all with 2 minutes, 58 seconds to go.
But if you’ve been watching the Panthers this season, you could almost predict what would happen next. A secondary that has been decimated by injuries and general manager Dave Gettleman’s decision-making gave up several more big chunks of yardage to New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees (465 passing yards).
So, for the second time in six days, Carolina lost on a field goal in the last 15 seconds – this time on Wil Lutz’s 52-yarder.
Taking turns messing up
The Panthers’ various units have taken turns losing games this season. Against Denver, Gano missed a field goal to lose the best game Carolina has played all season. Against Atlanta, the defensive secondary got torched for 300 yards by Julio Jones. Against Tampa Bay, with Newton sitting out because of a concussion, Derek Anderson threw an awful end-zone interception and the Carolina offense could only come up with 14 points.
This time, the Panthers’ offense had a spectacular second half, scoring 28 in Newton’s return. It still wasn’t enough.
“We scored 38 points,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “We should have had 50.”
We scored 38 points. We should have had 50.
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen
The Saints have made a lot of defenses look ill-prepared over the years, so what happened Sunday wasn’t new. It didn’t help, though, that Gettleman released Josh Norman in the offseason and then abruptly got rid of Bené Benwikere after the Panthers got pasted at Atlanta.
Two of the team’s three rookie cornerbacks were off the field in the fourth quarter because of injury, which meant Carolina was trying to defend Brees with a ragtag defensive backfield that was going to have little chance unless it was benefiting from a fantastic pass rush.
That rush has been a problem all season, though – Brees threw 49 passes and was only sacked once.
Carolina was going to have to match Brees score for score to win this one, but the Panthers had zero points in the first quarter. “We’re kind of showing up late to the party,” center Ryan Kalil said.
The burning house
Indeed they are. And the furious comeback wasn’t enough, as Carolina lost the game by the exact same score it won by in New Orleans in 2015. At least Carolina won’t lose again next Sunday – the Panthers have a bye.
Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. had likened his team to a burning house a few days ago, saying Carolina had to find an exit.
So, I asked Ginn after this heartbreaker, what happened to the house?
“I’d say we made it out of the house,” Ginn said, “but it still fell down.”