Panthers’ playoff hopes take major blow with loss to Browns
CLEVELAND (AP) — Cam Newton’s unique fashion choices remain exciting.
Everything else about the Carolina Panthers looks stale.
Unable to come up with big plays down the stretch again, the reeling Panthers suffered their fifth straight loss, a 26-20 setback to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday that puts a major dent in Carolina’s playoff hopes.
Afterward, Newton, stylish as usual in a hat and tailored gray, three-piece suit adorned with a yellow rose on his lapel, uncomfortably answered questions about Carolina’s collapse.
“It’s extremely frustrating to come up short each and every week with similar settings and not be able to push through,” said Newton, who passed for 265 yards and a touchdown but had two bad throws late in the fourth quarter. “I wish I had the words to say, but I don’t. In this league, that’s what it always comes down to: finding ways to keep the game close.
“We just haven’t found a way to win.”
The Panthers (6-7) are plummeting. They have three games left, but two are against the New Orleans Saints (11-2), who clinched the NFC South with a 28-14 win over Tampa Bay.
Carolina was unable to put away the Browns (5-7-1), who scored nine points in the fourth quarter and overcame their own costly mistakes.
It’s back to the drawing board for the Panthers and coach Ron Rivera, who was already feeling the heat and is in real danger of losing his job. Rivera shook up his coaching staff last week, pulling defensive play-calling duties away from coordinator Eric Washington, firing defensive line coach Brady Hoke and assistant secondary/cornerbacks coach Jeff Imamura.
Those moves came after Rivera’s meeting with owner David Tepper and general manager Marty Hurney, who may want to have another discussion with him.
The Browns completed a 66-yard pass on their first play, and gashed Carolina’s defense for plays of 51, 51, 29, 28 and 15 yards. Even Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry got loose for a long run.
But the Panthers’ biggest problem has been their inability to win close games. They’ve dropped their part four by a combined 17 points.
“We felt like we were going to win today,” defensive end Julius Peppers said. “We felt like we were going to win last week. We feel like we are going to win every game. It is not for a lack of confidence. It is just a lack of execution.”
With the Panthers trailing 26-20, Newton, who has been bothered by a sore right shoulder for several weeks, dinked and dunked his way to Cleveland’s 3-yard line with 3:25 left.
After a run by D.J. Moore was stopped for no gain, Newton underthrew Curtis Samuel in the right corner of the end zone on third down.
Then, on fourth down, Newton, facing some pressure up the middle, overthrew Jarius Wright in the back of the end zone on what would end up being Carolina’s last real chance.
The Panthers got the ball back with 1:04 left, but Newton missed wide receiver Devin Funchess and was intercepted by Browns safety Damarious Randall.
Newton accepted responsibility for his mistakes, but said the Panthers as a whole aren’t doing enough to win.
Carolina had earlier chances to score, but a false start led to a field goal instead of a touchdown and the Panthers had the ball for just 24 seconds in one series in the third before punting.
“Those opportunities slip through our grasp and find ways to come back and bite us,” Newton said. “Early on in the second half, we had opportunities, favorable field position, and we just have to find ways to score points, touchdowns, preferably. Now everyone goes to shuffling, running around with their heads cut off and panicking at the end of the game.
“We should’ve done the hard work when we had opportunities. It’s just a detriment to everyone. I’m going to do my part. I’m starting with myself. We all put ourselves in this situation. There’s no one person to blame. We just have to keep moving forward.”
Newton quickly dismissed a question about whether he would rest his sore shoulder.
Times are tough, but he’s not quitting.
“We’re in a position where we’re done with the cliché sayings,” he said. “It just comes down to us doing our job. That’s pretty much what it is, in all three phases of football. Even though coach can get up and motivate us, we can get up, scream and holler, it just comes down to us doing our job.”