Panthers' offense sputters in 16-12 loss to Seahawks

jperson@charlotteobserver.comOctober 8, 2012 

— The Panthers have to keep the ball off the 1 – and they better figure out a way to start winning while they're at it.

For the second week in a row, the Panthers had the game on the line at 1 in the fourth quarter and failed to finish.

In a loss to Atlanta on Sept. 30, it was a pass the Panthers gave up that cost them the victory.

Sunday, in a 16-12 loss to Seattle, it was a pass the Panthers couldn't complete.

Trailing 16-10 and facing fourth-and-goal with just under four minutes remaining, Cam Newton skipped a pass at the feet of reserve tight end Ben Hartsock, who was open in the end zone.

It was the most costly poor throw during a day full of them for Newton, who completed a career-low 41.4 percent of his passes and was outplayed by Seattle rookie quarterback and former N.C. State standout Russell Wilson.

Newton completed 12 of 29 passes for 141 yards, also a career low for last season's AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. Newton was sacked four times and failed to produce an offensive touchdown.

“I was inaccurate today on a lot of possessions, more than I wanted to,” Newton said.

The Panthers, picked by some to contend for a playoff spot in Newton's second season, will limp into the bye week with a 1-4 record. Against the NFL's No. 2-ranked defense, Carolina managed 190 yards, the lowest total in two seasons under coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.

Seattle (3-2) had lost 20 of its previous 26 road games before Sunday, dating to 2009.

The defense tried to keep the Panthers in the game with three takeaways and a touchdown – a 33-yard interception return by Captain Munnerlyn that was the longest gain by a Panthers' player.

“We haven't had one game where the offense plays well and the defense plays well,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “When one side plays well, the other side stinks, or vice versa. And today we stunk.”

The Panthers dropped to 7-14 under Rivera, who became animated when asked if the losses were getting old.

“If it gets old and tiring, then it's time for me to go,” Rivera said. “I'll never do that. I'm a football coach. I believe in winning games. That's what I was hired for and that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to do the best I can at it. But it will never get old and tiring.”

It looked like Newton was poised for the first signature, fourth-quarter drive of his career. Newton completed six consecutive passes to move the Panthers 79 yards to the Seahawks' 1.

After wideout Louis Murphy was stopped short of the goal line on third-and-goal, Chudzinski called a roll-out play for Newton with the option for him to run or throw.

Olsen was the primary target. But when a Seattle safety covered Olsen, Newton tried to throw back to Hartsock, the trail receiver.

It never got there.

“I didn't see nothing (with the first read). So I decided to look back, and Ben Hartsock was wide open. And I just failed to throw it to him, give him an accurate throw,” Newton said. “So that comes on me. I pride myself on being very prepared and being able to do things when my number is called. My number was called right there and I didn't get the job done. I think that's shame on me.”

Seattle coach Pete Carroll said he was ecstatic when he saw the Panthers had not called a sneak for the 6-5, 245-pound Newton.

“Yeah, we were expecting him to jump over the top,” Carroll said. “Everybody was raring to go and when he pulled out with the football it was like, ‘Hallelujah. We got a chance.’”

The Panthers still had a chance if the defense could force a quick stop.

Carolina led Atlanta in a similar situation last week, but allowed Matt Ryan to complete a 59-yard pass from his 1 when safety Haruki Nakamura let Roddy White get behind him. Matt Bryant kicked a game-winning field goal a few plays later.

This time a Panthers defense that throttled Marshawn Lynch, the NFL's leading rusher, most of the game failed to stop him when it needed to most. On third-and-7 with 2:58 left, Lynch bulled through a tackle attempt by defensive end Charles Johnson for an 11-yard gain that allowed the Seahawks to burn two more minutes off the clock.

Lynch finished with 85 yards on 21 carries, and Wilson completed 19 of 25 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown.

When the Panthers got the ball back after the Seahawks intentionally took a safety, they were at their 31 with 53 seconds left and out of timeouts. Two plays later, rookie defensive end Bruce Irvin beat rookie guard Amini Silatolu and sacked Newton, stripping him of the ball.

The Seahawks recovered at the Panthers' 25. A Wilson kneel-down ended it, bringing boos from the crowd at Bank of America Stadium and explanations from Panthers' players for a season that has gone south in a hurry.

“Consistency is our biggest thing. We go bad game, good game, bad game, good game, bad game. That's not going to lead to a lot of wins,” Gross said. “We need to learn to be consistent, be the same team every week and put out the same product every week, because right now we're not doing that.”

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson

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