CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)Injuries have caught up to the Carolina Panthers on the defensive side of the ball.
Meanwhile, the offense remains a mistake-prone mess.
That combination resulted in a 42-24 blowout loss to the Detroit Lions, adding to what has been disastrous start for first-year head coach Frank Reich in Carolina. The Panthers are the league’s only winless team after the Bears got off the schneid Thursday night behind a 230-yard, three-touchdown game from wide receiver D.J, Moore, a player the Panthers traded to Chicago to move up to No. 1 in the draft.
No team in the Super Bowl era has ever rebounded from an 0-5 start to reach the postseason.
But the playoffs are hardly on Reich’s mind.
Right now, he just wants his team to “keep pounding,” borrowing the team’s slogan made popular by former Carolina linebacker Sam Mills, and try to get their first win.
“No one envisioned this,” Reich said of his team’s poor start. “This is the embodiment of ‘keep pounding’ and the only way you do that is if you believe. If you believe, it’s going to make a difference. Otherwise, you just check out. It’s a mental toughness that even when things aren’t going your way, we go back in and try to have our best week of work ever this week because I think it will make a difference in me.”
Mental toughness aside, the Panthers simply might not have enough talented bodies on the field to compete at a high level.
The Panthers are playing without four defensive starters, including both cornerbacks Jaycee Horn and Donte Jackson, inside linebacker and emotional leader Shaq Thompson and safety Xavier Woods.
The Lions took full advantage Sunday.
Jared Goff completed 20 of 28 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for a score as Detroit had touchdowns on six of the nine possessions it tried to score. (The Lions took a knee at the end of the first and second half).
Carolina’s offense didn’t exactly help out the defense as Bryce Young threw two bad interceptions and Miles Sanders fumbled once leading to 21 points for the Lions in the first half. The Panthers were penalized seven more times Sunday with the offense again struggling with crowd noise with a rookie QB under center.
Reich said he never considered replacing Young with veteran Andy Dalton on Sunday.
“No one wants to be here, but it’s where we’re at,” Young said. “Obviously we have to clean this stuff up and then we have to turn the page. We’re going to get back to work, look at this stuff, see stuff we need to correct, see stuff we can build off of and no matter how bad anyone feels, how bad we all feel, we own it in the locker room.”
The irritation of losing is setting in.
Brian Burns, the team’s two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker, showed his frustration when he threw his helmet down in disgust on the sideline after defensive tackle Nick Thurman jumped offside on a fourth-and-1 with about 11 minutes remaining in the game.
Things aren’t going to get any easier for the Panthers, who are a 14-point underdog heading into next Sunday’s game at Miami.
Wide receiver Adam Thielen continues to thrive in the Panthers offense with 11 receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown against the Lions. Over the last four games, Thielen has averaged nine catches and 95.5 yards per game along with three touchdowns.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Panthers continued to struggle with pre-snap penalties, including another delay of game. “That’s 100% my fault,” Young said. “Obviously, better clock awareness.” Carolina had similar issues in a road loss to Seattle in Week 3.
After seeing his streak of 25 consecutive field goals end in Week 3 when he missed from 55 yards out, Eddy Pineiro seems focused on starting a new one, having made four straight kicks since that miss.
Running back Miles Sanders hasn’t been the impact player the Panthers hoped he’d be when they signed him as a free agent. And now he’s losing carries to Chuba Hubbard. Sanders had a costly fumble that led to a Lions touchdown. Hubbard wound up getting nine carries to Sanders’ seven, although some of that may have been because of the game was out of hand in the fourth quarter. Laviska Shenault also got five carries.
Rookie guard Chandler Zavala is back in Charlotte recovering from a neck stinger. Zavala was released from a hospital in Detroit and traveled home with the team after being carted off the field in the first quarter. After being injured on a running play, the medical staff took time to secure Zavala’s neck with a brace and placed him on a backboard before he was carted to the locker room. He was able to move all extremities. It’s unclear how long he will be out.
The Panthers already were playing without starting guards Austin Corbett and Brady Christensen, although Corbett is getting close to being cleared.
27-58 – The Panthers’ record since David Tepper took over as the team’s owner in 2018.
The Panthers travel to Miami to face the high-powered Dolphins on Sunday.
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