The Carolina Panthers’ record-setting numbers on offense the first month of the season haven’t translated into wins.
Cam Newton(notes) is on pace to break Dan Marino’s single-season passing record and wide receiver Steve Smith could shatter Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving record at this torrid pace, but it hardly matters as the Panthers are just 1-3.
In each of their three losses the Panthers have had a chance to win or tie the game late in the fourth quarter. They got it done against Jacksonville, but fell short against Arizona, Green Bay and Chicago.
The close-but-no-cigar ending is quickly becoming a source of frustration.
“It’s getting pretty old this whole business of `we’re good enough to win, but we don’t win,”’ said tight end Greg Olsen. “We need to learn quick how to win at this level and how to beat good teams. If we don’t, it’s going to be a long year.”
The Panthers seemed ready for a long year anyway after going 2-14 last season.
Newton’s arrival changed all that.
For the first time in quite a while the Panthers have a legitimate playmaker at quarterback with Newton having a hand in all nine of the team’s touchdowns. Newton has set the bar high, but once again the Panthers find themselves in the basement of the NFC South, two games out of first place.
“It’s getting old saying that we’re getting better,” said offensive tackle Jordan Gross. “But when you’re 1-3 that’s just the way it is.”
Added Olsen: “It’s just a handful of plays every game.
That’s the way it normally is in the NFL, where there’s a fine line between winning and losing.
On Sunday, the Panthers essentially gave the Bears 21 points after Newton threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, Devin Hester returned a punt 69 yards for a score and the Panthers allowed a 73-yard kickoff return that would lead to another score.
That offset a franchise-record 543-yard performance by Carolina’s offense.
Still, it’s the plays the Panthers aren’t making in the fourth quarter that have hurt the most.
The Week 3 win over Jacksonville being the lone exception, the Panthers haven’t come up with the key defensive stop, the big play on special teams or the critical touchdown on offense in the game’s final minutes.
They haven’t learned to slam the door.
Rivera admits he’s “frustrated,” saying Monday the Panthers should have beat the Bears on Sunday.
“We’re playing good enough to win,” Rivera said. “We are continuing to do things to hurt ourselves more so than anything else. We played a good team (Sunday), a playoff caliber team from last year, and we didn’t give ourselves a chance to win. I told our guys it’s hard enough beating one team let alone two.”
The biggest problem continues to be finishing games.
The Panthers had two chances to take the lead against the Bears, but both times the offense—a unit that tallied 24 first downs—sputtered when it counted the most. Carolina managed just one first down on two crucial drives with less than six minutes to play, resulting in a punt and a turnover on downs.
They also turned the ball over on downs late in losses to Green Bay and Arizona.
“We’re learning how to finish games and it’s obvious that we didn’t finish the game” at Chicago, running back DeAngelo Williams said.
Newton, for one, isn’t about to accept losing. He’s already tired of it.
After Sunday’s game Olsen walked by Newton and offered some words of encouragement, but the rookie shrugged him off. Newton later apologized for his actions, but didn’t apologize for how he feels about losing.
“I’ve never had the mentality of losing my whole life,” said Newton, who won national championships with Auburn and Blinn Junior College the last two seasons. “And for a person to tell me you can’t win them all, that’s a loser’s mentality. I play the game and I want to win every single game I play, so obviously it hurts when I lose, but it’s not just me. We have guys on our team you know are giving it all they got.
Smith said the bottom line is Carolina has to finish games.
“It (stinks). It’s frustrating,” he said. “But more than anything you can see it’s discouraging to a lot of the younger guys because you’re like, `What else do we have to do?”’
One answer, Rivera said, is for the Panthers to stop beating themselves.