For the better part of two months, Cam Newton hasn’t been able to put his finger on what’s wrong with the Carolina Panthers’ offense.
Most of the time he says it’s a problem with execution. Other times it’s focus. Sunday, after Carolina’s 31-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings he introduced a new reason: a loss of swagger.
Whatever the reason, Carolina’s offense has underperformed in Newton’s fourth season as the quarterback and offensive coordinator Mike Shula’s second in his post.
Again Sunday, the Panthers went without a touchdown in the red zone, and for the ninth time this season, Carolina failed to score more than 21 points.
“We just have to keep fighting, keep chipping along,” Newton said. “No one said this road would be easy. No one said once we get in the red zone, we’re going to score. But we have the guys who can get the job done, and I think the worry now is trying to get our swagger back, so to speak.”
Since the Panthers began their winless streak with a tie in Cincinnati, the team has scored a touchdown after driving inside the opponent’s 20-yard line eight times in 19 trips. In their nine trips to the red zone in the past five games, the Panthers have scored two touchdowns.
Carolina failed to score a touchdown on two trips inside the Vikings’ 20. The Panthers’ third drive of the game stalled at the Minnesota 12 and they settled for a 30-yard field goal.
In the second quarter, Carolina made it to the Minnesota 17 before consecutive incompletions sent Graham Gano back on the field for a 35-yard field goal.
“You can’t kick field goals early. You’ve got to be able to score touchdowns early,” coach Ron Rivera said. “You’ve got to be able to counteract the mistakes that you make, whether it be on special teams or defense. We had a couple of mistakes in all phases of the game.”
Carolina’s defense gave up 17 points and special teams had two punts blocked and returned for touchdowns. The offense still went without a first-half touchdown for the fifth time in the past six games.
Carolina tried to turn it around in the second half. The defense forced two three-and-outs to start the half, and the Panthers got their lone touchdown on a 32-yard pass from Newton to Philly Brown, though the ball was underthrown on fourth down.
The Panthers had a chance to make it a one-score game when they got the ball at midfield midway through the third quarter. Then a negative rush and two Newton incompletions forced Carolina to punt.
“We’re talking about what could have happened and what didn’t happen, but right now I am in a situation where I have to control the things I can control,” Newton said. “I am looking forward to watching this film and seeing where the plays went wrong.”
The film will show Newton was off target with his receivers early in the game. It will also show that seven completions and 57 passing yards out of Newton’s 18 completions and 194 passing yards came in the fourth quarter, with the Vikings up by three possessions.
He’ll also see a fourth-quarter interception on a pass intended for De’Andre Presley that came up woefully short.
What he won’t see on film is that the interception marked the eighth consecutive game he has thrown one, which sets a franchise record. After a Pro Bowl season last year, Newton has 13 touchdowns to 11 interceptions this season.
“I can’t put my finger on one thing, and I can’t put my finger on another,” Newton said. “We have to be better as a team, and I have to be better. I think tomorrow starts a new day.”