Panthers’ air game crumbles in second half

jjones@charlotteobserver.comOctober 6, 2013 

— For the first half of Sunday’s 22-6 loss at Arizona, Cam Newton led a passing attack that had nearly doubled the Cardinals in total offense.

The Panthers had just six points to show for it, but clearly Carolina’s offense was clicking, save for a few costly drops.

Then the second half happened, and the air assault that produced 215 yards in the first half could muster only a fraction of that with the game on the line.

“We just stopped making plays,” wide receiver Brandon LaFell said. “End of the first half we ended on a good drive. We came out slow, things weren’t going our way and started spiraling.”

Newton had just four completions in nine attempts for 45 yards and an interception from the start of the second half until the Panthers’ next-to-last drive with 3:38 left in the game. That was when Carolina trailed 15-6 and needed to score quickly to bring it back to a one-possession game.

Five plays into that drive, Newton fumbled the ball on a strip sack and the Cardinals nearly returned it for a touchdown. He finished the day with 308 yards, zero touchdowns, three interceptions and a fumble.

“I feel as if in both halves we had our opportunities,” Newton said. “We’ve got to do a better job, well, not ‘we.’ I have to do a better job at protecting the ball and putting this offense in a better situation.”

While Newton took the brunt of the blame Sunday, others said there was plenty of blame to go around. Ron Rivera said the offensive line has to do a better job of protecting Newton, who was sacked seven times, and play-makers have to make plays.

Steve Smith had two drops and LaFell had one in the first half in key situations.

“He played well under a lot of pressure and got banged up a couple of times,” LaFell said. “We got to make plays for him. I had a drop, Smitty had a couple drops, everybody had drops. Whenever you get chances on this team you’ve got to make plays and we didn’t make plays for him so good game by him, we’ve got to pick our game up as the skill players.”

LaFell had four catches for 47 yards while Smith had four catches for 60 yards. His third-down drop on the Panthers’ first drive would have been a touchdown, but Carolina had to settle for a field goal.

“Blame the loss on me. I’m the scapegoat,” Smith said, declining a full interview. “Blame Steve Smith. It’s all Steve Smith’s fault.”

Greg Olsen, the team’s leading receiver entering Sunday, had five catches for 79 yards in the first half. He was not targeted in the second half.

Newton was also under considerable pressure in the second half. He was sacked four times in the half and seven times in the entire game, which tied a career high. At one point in the first half Newton had a quarterback rating of 113.8. He finished at 47.8.

“You have to give credit to them as well. They pressured the quarterback and we didn’t make the plays when we had opportunities, that’s probably the biggest reason,” Rivera said. “Whether it’s by design as far as the defense is concerned with their coverages or we missed a throw or we dropped the ball. We can’t have that.”

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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