After absorbing a third-quarter sack by Julius Peppers, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton looked to one of the huge video boards at Lambeau Field to see what went wrong.
He saw his right tackle Nate Chandler struggle to contain Clay Matthews, and then Peppers sacking him from behind after after beating Byron Bell.
The top of the video board, flanked by mentions of 13 world championships in Green Bay’s storied history, showed that the Panthers trailed by 28. The day would get no better, and the Panthers’ 38-17 loss was worse than the final score indicated.
Carolina’s defense did its offense no favors, of course. The Packers scored 21 points before the Panthers could even muster a first down.
But an offense that scored 37 points against a good Cincinnati Bengals defense in five quarters last week couldn’t find its way to the end zone on Sunday until it mattered only for fantasy football owners of Kelvin Benjamin, Derek Anderson and Brenton Bersin.
With Benjamin playing after being in the concussion protocol this week, against the worst rush defense in the NFL, and with Newton coming off his best game of the year, the Panthers’ offense had nothing to give.
There would be no comeback in Green Bay.
“We ran six plays and were down (three) scores. We did a bad job of giving our defense a break after the first drive,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “We’ve got to do a better job of converting on third down and staying on the field.
“Like I said, it just got away. It got away quick.”
To be sure, there were injuries. The Panthers were down starting left guard Amini Silatolu, and early in the game lost starting right guard Trai Turner to an ankle injury. Later, undrafted rookie David Foucault came on to protect Newton’s blindside after Byron Bell left with an elbow injury.
Of the seven offensive linemen who played Sunday, only Turner and four-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil were drafted out of college.
Carolina’s first offensive possession netted 3 yards on three plays. The next possession offered minus-7 yards following Newton’s first sack of the game. The third drive had one first down – on a Green Bay penalty – and featured a failure to gain a yard on third and 1.
“Whenever you get an opportunity to get on the field and go down the field and score points – which is your job – and you don’t, that puts a kink in everything,” running back Jonathan Stewart said. “As an offense we worked so hard to do what we’re capable of and not being able to go out and respond the way we’re supposed to, it’s definitely disappointing.”
On the first possession of the second half, the Panthers tried to run Stewart and Newton on third and fourth downs, needing a yard. They got nothing.
Newton and Panthers coach Ron Rivera did a poor job hiding their contempt for the spot on Newton’s run after the game, believing he had enough for a first down.
Still, Newton couldn’t hang the loss on that one spot. The Panthers have to play better football, he said.
“It’s kind of frustrating when you realize you’re sitting on the field or sitting on the sideline and, well, you didn’t do anything that could change the outlook on things,” Newton said. “When you self-evaluate things, what I did wasn’t enough and I understand that and I have to be better.”