Young Panthers Close, But Can't Close

(Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

What do you tell a guy who isn’t used to losing? Someone who had never lost two games in a row before coming up short in three of his first four games as a pro? Good luck trying to make Cam Newton feel better about the Panthers 1-3 start.

When asked this week if he’s received advice on how to better handle losing, Newton quickly replied, "I don’t think anybody could, unless it’s coming from a world-class loser - ‘Let me tell you how to lose.’"

While Newton’s answered questions about his NFL-readiness at a record-breaking pace, he’s still not completely ready to emotionally handle the Panthers growing pains. 

After each loss, the rookie's quietly stewed at his locker. His body language in postgame press conferences resembling a child who had his favorite toy taken away. It’s pretty much the opposite of a man many wrongly assumed only cared about his own numbers.


The thing is, those numbers have mostly been chunks of yards that haven’t turned into piles of points for the Panthers.


"I think we leave so many points out there on the field, it’s not even funny," Newton said. "Golly, we just hurt ourselves."


Newton’s led a total transformation of an offense that found itself at the bottom of most statistical categories last year. Through the first quarter of this season, the Panthers boast the NFL’s third-highest average of yards per game (440). The problem is, they’re ranked 17th in points per game (22.2).


In-between the big yards and points lies the biggest issue: the Panthers are having a hard time getting from the red zone, into the end zone. The NFL's third-best yardage offense is ranked just 18th inside the red zone.


"Whether it be a penalty or we line up wrong, I don’t know exactly what it is," Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams said. "Whether we run the ball and we miss a hole, or the quarterback just overthrow a receiver, or a receiver dropped it. We can’t just pinpoint what the issues are, we just gotta fix them."


Of course, the points problem isn’t the only reason for the 1-3 start. The Panthers defense and special teams have developed a disturbing knack for allowing big plays. 


In Arizona, it was Jeff King, Early Doucet and Patrick Peterson. Versus Green Bay, it was Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson. Against Chicago, it was Devin Hester and Matt Forte.


Take away big plays from each, and the Panthers record looks a heck of a lot better.


"We’ve been playing well enough to win, but we’ve been playing well enough to lose too," Panthers cornerback Darius Butler said. "We’ve gotta stop beating ourselves. I don’t think it’s been the other teams just lining up and whupping us."


Unfortunately for the Panthers, it’s not as simple as saying "take away big plays" or "put more points on the board." This young team has to eventually learn how to do and not just say. 


"We’ve been in each game, but that’s not an excuse," Newton said. "We’ve gotta find a way to win, somehow, someway."

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