Scott Fowler

As New England looms, here’s what went wrong in Carolina Panthers’ loss to New Orleans

The Carolina Panthers looked nowhere near like a team ready to play the defending Super Bowl champions on Sunday, but that’s what is in store for them next.

Carolina travels to Massachusetts to play Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Oct. 1. Brady threw five TD passes Sunday to edge Houston 36-33. Both Carolina and New England are 2-1.

New England’s defense has shown some serious vulnerability this season. But the Panthers offense has shown no signs of exploiting anyone these days. On Sunday, in Carolina’s embarrassing 34-13 loss to New Orleans, here were the four things that should concern Panthers fans the most:

▪  The awful offense. Cam Newton’s halftime statistics looked like a misprint, as he had only 21 yards passing despite throwing the ball 10 times. Carolina looked good on its first drive, but bogged down again inside the Saints 10 and settled for a field goal. That sort of thing works against Buffalo or San Francisco, but not against New Orleans. Against a team allowing 32.5 points per game, Carolina managed only 13.

Newton ended up with three interceptions and a 43.8 quarterback rating before giving way in the final minutes to backup Derek Anderson – a move made to preserve Newton’s problematic throwing arm. Mistakes like the one Matt Kalil made on the first drive – wrecking it when he slid right on a protection instead of left and allowed a third-down sack – just can’t happen.

▪  The high-profile injuries. Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen (foot) is already out until at least late November. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (knee) went down early in this game and did not return after a tackle in which he was awkwardly dragged down from behind. The knee he hurt was the same one that caused him to miss the entire 2015 Super Bowl season. Linebacker Thomas Davis called timeout early in the third quarter and took himself out with a rib injury, although he would later return.

▪  The shoddy secondary. James Bradberry got toasted on a 40-yard TD to former Carolina wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. Daryl Worley was beaten several times by Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, who caught five passes for 50 yards on the Saints’ first drive (including a TD against Worley). Safety Kurt Coleman could not make the big play Carolina needed. And the linebackers didn’t help much in coverage, either – Luke Kuechly dropped an interception thrown right into his hands.

▪  The horrible coaching. The game-planning obviously didn’t work on either side of the ball. And what about that awful decision by Ron Rivera with 7:08 left in the third quarter?

Facing a fourth-and-5 at New Orleans 35 and down 24-6, Rivera inexplicably decided to punt the ball. Down 18 points and you don’t go for either the field goal or the TD? C’mon.

Rivera said later he didn’t want to give the Saints offense good field position if his team missed a 53-yard field goal. But this decision correctly drew a cavalcade of boos – and a punt by Michael Palardy straight into the end zone that seemed like karma.