Scott Fowler

At crux of Carolina Panthers’ problems: Inability to score touchdowns

When you explain football to a child, one of the first words you use is “touchdown.”

It is one of football’s basics, those six points you get when you reach the end zone. And when you put the Panthers’ 3-8-1 season in simplest terms, they just haven’t been getting there often enough in 2014.

Remember the last time Carolina played New Orleans, on Oct. 30? The Saints led 14-0 at halftime. The Panthers’ defense forced two early turnovers, and the Panthers’ offense converted those turnovers into ... well ... punts.

The Panthers’ offense wasn’t great last season, either, but that fact was often hidden by the NFL’s No. 2 defense and a few fantastic fourth-quarter drives that produced points at exactly the right time. That team scored 42 touchdowns in 16 games.

This team has only 24 through 12 games, which places it in front of only the New York Jets, Oakland and Jacksonville in terms of TDs scored this season. That’s company you do not want to keep in today’s NFL. Even 2-10 Tampa Bay and 2-10 Tennessee have scored one more TD apiece than Carolina has this season.

This is not a historic low for Carolina. The record for fewest TDs ever by a Panthers team came in 2010, when Jimmy Clausen and company sputtered to only 17 total TDs in 16 games. That team sometimes looked like it couldn’t have scored if the other team had forgotten to put a defense on the field at all.

This one has not been much better. From the regression of quarterback Cam Newton to the purge of receivers to the overpaid running backs to the uninspired playcalling to the unstable and overmatched offensive line, this has been an incredibly forgettable offense to watch.

•  Could the Panthers’ offense have a last gasp Sunday? There’s a chance. New Orleans is 31st in the NFL in yards allowed. But the Saints still whipped Carolina 28-10 in Charlotte on Oct. 30 and made Newton endure one of his worst days ever in the NFL (10 for 28, 151 yards, 1 interception and a 39.4 QB rating).

•  Of the Panthers’ primary rivals, no team has historically been a better match than New Orleans. Check this out. The teams have played 39 times, with Carolina holding a 20-19 edge. If you combine all the points from all the games, the difference is one touchdown – New Orleans leads, 817-810.

• Prediction time. I am 7-4-1 picking the Panthers’ outcome this season after correctly selecting Minnesota to beat Carolina last week. This one may be close for a half, but not much longer than that. My pick: New Orleans 34, Carolina 17.