Carolina Panthers

Despite weekly exorcisms, Panthers can’t shake familiar demons. Cleveland was ready.

Panthers Newton responds to question about his shoulder

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is asked about his shoulder and the thoughts of others regarding his continuing to play following the team's 26-20 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, December 9, 2018.
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Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is asked about his shoulder and the thoughts of others regarding his continuing to play following the team's 26-20 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, December 9, 2018.

“You’ve got to have a short memory.”

“You just have to move past it.”

“You can’t think about it.”

There doesn’t seem to be a logical explanation for why the Carolina Panthers have given up big play after big play over the past five weeks, so they have resorted to variations of the same answer.

But they haven’t really moved on from the 75-yard touchdown pass they gave up in Pittsburgh, or the 54-yarder against Seattle, or the 48-yard pass in Tampa — or any of the lengthy plays they’ve allowed during their now five-game losing streak.

On the contrary, they talk about these big plays every day.

“We try to get it rectified every day in practice,” Ron Rivera said after Carolina’s 26-20 loss to Cleveland. “Unfortunately, it’s not sticking. We’ve got to continue to work on it as coaches to make sure we’re getting it across.”

Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers addresses the question about this being his final season following the team's loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, December 9, 2018 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. Peppers wants a win more.

The remedies might not be sticking, but the mental lapses seem to be.

The Browns’ first play from scrimmage Sunday was a reminder of what has plagued the Panthers over their current losing streak, as Breshad Perriman beat rookie cornerback Donte Jackson for a 66-yard reception. Cleveland scored three plays later.

Jackson said he expected a run with three tight ends and one receiver on the field — a formation the Panthers countered by sliding James Bradberry over to safety.

Several Panthers insisted the play didn’t affect the team’s confidence. They’re probably telling the truth, but their confidence wasn’t the concern — the Browns’ confidence was.

During the week, Baker Mayfield and company felt like they could break off a big play or two against the Carolina defense.

Turns out they were right.

“I knew we had potential,” Browns receiver Jarvis Landry said. “The first thing (Browns offensive coordinator) Freddie (Kitchens) said when he stepped into the meeting on Wednesday was, ‘the first play of the game is going to be this play.’

“It worked just how he said it would.”

Panthers safety Eric Reid responds to a question about the team's search to correct for execution errors following the team's 26-20 loss to the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio on Sunday, December 9, 2018.

That confidence carried over into the second quarter, when Mayfield found a tightly covered Landry for a 51-yard score on third-and-17. Mayfield even admitted to hesitating before the throw — then throwing it anyway.

Because why not?

“We were honestly expecting them to bring a different coverage,” Mayfield said. “They kind of let him run free. The safety on the backside, you could see that I kind of hesitated a little bit to see if the safety would turn his head, but when I realized that he was chasing Jarvis down the field, I let it go because he is not going to make a play on the ball with his head turned, and I trust Jarvis to make those plays.”

The eight days between the Panthers’ game in Cleveland and their Monday night showdown with the NFC South champion New Orleans Saints will probably be filled with the same preparation as the past five weeks, the same questions about giving up big plays, and likely the same answers about this frustrating losing streak.

But perhaps the most frustrating thing of all for this veteran locker room is the team’s inability to stop giving up game-changing plays.

“It’s tough. It’s something that we talk about week in and week out,” Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said. “When you don’t go out and completely (execute), those plays show up and they cost you. You never know when it’s going to be.



“It’s not about one play, one play doesn’t cost you a game. But if you continue to allow things to happen week in and week out, that’s what costs you a football game.”

Defensive end Julius Peppers said the Panthers still believe they can win every game. That’s not surprising for a team full of guys who have been in this league for too long to have their confidence shaken.

But with this glaring, recurring, game-changing problem hanging over their sideline, they’re running out of positives to turn to.

Marcel Louis-Jacques, 704-358-5015: @Marcel_LJ

Marcel Louis-Jacques covers the Carolina Panthers for the Charlotte Observer, keeping you on top of Panthers news both on the field and behind the scenes. He is a 2014 graduate of Arizona State University and grew up in Sacramento, California.


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