Biggest takeaways from Panthers’ heartbreaking loss to Browns

·3 min read

The Carolina Panthers made the final 13 minutes of Sunday’s season opener a pretty watchable contest. But it was the first 47 minutes of the game that might’ve given us a real look into who they are at the moment.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Offense took too long to bake

AP Photo/Rusty Jones

New starting quarterback Baker Mayfield was supposed to give the Panthers offense some new life. Unfortunately, they didn’t have much of a pulse throughout the vast majority of his debut.

The first quarter ended with the offense compiling fewer than zero passing yards. (Yes, it’s possible). The second quarter ended with a wild interception and a 10-point deficit. Then, the third quarter ended with a 20-7 hole—one the group seemed destined to die in.

Well, they miraculously didn’t. Carolina posted 17 points in the game’s final 13 minutes—with the help of a 7-yard Mayfield rush and a 75-yard bomb to wideout Robbie Anderson.

But, it was still too little too late. From Mayfield’s myriad of batted attempts, to his four fumbles on exchanges with center Pat Elflein and the constant pressure the reworked offensive line allowed—the Panthers never found a groove against a tough Browns defense.

The good news, besides the late signs of zest, is that the offense is what they are—a unit with new offensive coordinator and new quarterback. So there’s still some time to get this ship headed in the right direction.

Defense remains a bit soft

AP Photo/Brian Westerholt

Carolina’s defense came out of the 2021 gates with some stinginess, having allowed just 45 rushing yards per contest over their first three weeks of play. They’d eventually digress, notably, becoming a painfully soft group against opposing ground attacks.

On Sunday, they looked much more like the latter.

Browns running back Nick Chubb went unchecked, racking up 141 yards on 22 carries. His buddy Kareem Hunt had a pretty breezy outing as well—totaling 70 yards from scrimmage with a pair of scores.

Additionally, the defense wrapped up their afternoon without any splash plays. The Panthers forced zero turnovers and mustered up all of one sack against an average—at best—offense.

Similarly to last season, Carolina is still searching for “the dawg” in them.

There's cleaning up to do

AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman

With a revamped staff behind him, head coach Matt Rhule was probably hoping for more structure to begin his third season in Carolina. That’s not what he got.

The Panthers weren’t particularly sharp in any of the game’s three phases. Their offense couldn’t get started, their defense couldn’t create stops and their special teams couldn’t make a noticeable dent.

That helped create a damaging difference in the battle for time of possession (38:26 to 21:34) and put the team in the 13-point hole to start the fourth quarter. Oh, and it also doesn’t help when your cornerback gets an unneeded pass interference penalty to lead to a touchdown and when your head coach gets an unneeded sideline interference penalty, period.

Despite the valiant comeback try, this performance from Rhule’s bunch was a frighteningly sloppy one.

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Story originally appeared on Panthers Wire