Coming into the season the offense was expected to be the strength of the Carolina Panthers.
They returned 11 starters from a team that was seventh in scoring last year and went 12-4. The 2008 Panthers scored 30 points in seven different games.
This year's Panthers are not nearly as intimidating, reaching that plateau just once while scoring 20 points or less in 10 of 13 games.
"When you're not winning there are a lot of things you can focus on and you can nitpick at, but that's going to require too much effort and I just don't have the energy to go down that path," said receiver Steve Smith after the game.
Smith scored the team's only touchdown on Sunday against New England, a 41-yard reception from Matt Moore.
The Panthers only reached the red zone once on Sunday, that resulting in a field goal.
"It was some ups and downs," Moore said. "I think we gave away some opportunities there and didn't take advantage of some opportunities offensively, I know that. I thought our defense played outstanding and held those guys. It's a good offense and a good team. Offensively, there are some things to correct. There are some positives. We wish we had taken advantage of those opportunities, some field position, especially.
"We work hard every week to put up points. Is there an answer for that? I don't know. We go into the week thinking we are going to put up some points and it's a matter of execution on Sundays, but like I said, there are some plays where we lack. We just need to keep getting better and work as a group and try to put some points on the board."
One of the big issues has been the lack of any receiving threat outside of Smith.
"Well, I mean, I think we ran the ball decent," Panthers coach John Fox said. "And I thought our passing game still has got some room for growth, but there were some bright spots even in that. You know, with the one touchdown pass, I think that is something we will just have to continue to improve on."
Fox wouldn't name this week's starting quarterback at Monday's press conference.
Working The Wildcat
The Panthers used what for them were rare trick plays on Sunday, going a little out of character.
WR Steve Smith converted a third down in the first quarter by taking the snap out of the wildcat formation, faking a handoff to DeAngelo Williams and running around left end for a first down. He also gained five yards on an end-around run.
And the trickiest play came on the last play of the first half on a hook-and-lateral, when Moore connected a 16-yard pass to Muhsin Muhammad, who then pitched to Smith for another 28 yards.
But poor clock management prevented the Panthers from getting another play off. The Panthers went into the locker room with two timeouts still in their pocket.
After the game, Moore said he wasn't told to use them.
"We were backed up and you don't want to give them the ball back," Fox explained.
Eye On The Future
Julius Peppers was asked about his future now that this season is basically over, but he refused to talk contract. If the Panthers franchise Peppers next year, they would need to pay him more than $2 million per game.
"Right now I'm getting ready to play the Minnesota Vikings," Peppers said. "Everything else is irrelevant and useless to waste time thinking about it."
When asked what the Panthers focus is on moving forward now that they're out of the playoff picture, Peppers replied, "Hey, one game at a time. We're not looking ahead to anybody but the next opponent coming in, correcting things and getting ready for next week. That's the only approach, one game at a time. As a player, try to work on my craft. You still have to go out there and fight."
The Panthers were victimized by penalties and were flagged nine times for 92 yards.
Three of those penalties came on illegal shifts on offense, once on back-to-back plays. Fox said a noisy stadium contributed to the penalties, but added, "I'm not sure we were set at the line before (we went in) motion, and that's what they were getting on us."
Also, James Anderson had a costly 30-yard pass interference penalty that led to a New England touchdown, Captain Munnerlyn was flagged for defensive holding in the end zone and Everette Brown was flagged for running into the kicker.
Brown's penalty stood out because it came late in the fourth quarter and allowed the Patriots to keep their drive alive and eventually kick a field goal to make it a two-possession game.
"It was just a mistake, you know," Brown said. "I was going full speed. It wasn't the smartest thing to do. You don't ever want to give the offense 15 yards."
No Moss, But A Lot Of The Other Guy
The Panthers did a solid job of controlling Randy Moss, limiting him to one reception and even that resulted in a fumble. But Wes Welker picked up the slack with 10 catches for 105 yards.
"I train with Wes down in Fort Lauderdale and he's a beast," said linebacker Jon Beason." He works hard every day and he's real loose up there in the slot. I covered him a couple of times. He's a special guy and he's found a home here. Tom (Brady) loves him and you can tell -- they were talking between plays -- they just have a great connection."
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