NFC South Reporter
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The worst team in the NFL is somehow getting worse.
Sunday brought the Carolina Panthers a 33-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, dropping them to 1-9 and clinching a sixth straight losing season — only the Jets and Broncos have longer such streaks.
But in so many ways, Carolina is regressing, rather than turning a corner. The Panthers’ scoring Sunday matched a season low, the 187 yards of total offense reset a season low and the seven sacks allowed and 90 penalty yards reset season highs. Bryce Young, the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, threw his third pick-six of the season and finished with 123 yards on 29 passes.
“We didn’t play clean football,” edge rusher Brian Burns said after the loss. “We played hard, but mistakes and mental errors determined the game. Very, very [frustrating]. I had a lot of high hopes coming into this year, as every year, everybody does. Things ain’t going our way right now. We’ve just gotta keep going, keep trying.”
Sunday continued a steady downward six-game trend for Carolina’s scoring: 24 points, then 21, 16, 13, 13 and 10. Four games ago, head coach Frank Reich turned playcalling duties over to offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, only to take those back this week. The result with each tweak has been fewer points and more frustration.
Making matters worse, Carolina’s defense actively helped the Cowboys on the way to a 17-3 halftime lead. On both touchdown drives, the Panthers kept drives alive with penalties for first downs in favorable situations.
A 28-yard pass interference call on second-and-13 and a 12-yard horse-collar penalty on third-and-19 helped Dallas’ first touchdown drive. Kicking off out of bounds started a drive before halftime at the 40, then it was unnecessary roughness on third-and-10 and another unnecessary roughness on third-and-16.
“It was brutal,” Reich said. “We had two third-and-longs and extended drives. That turns three points into seven, and we’re not only giving them four points, we’re losing an opportunity to have a two-minute drive. Who knows what we’d do in a two-minute drive. That was a bad sequence.”
Carolina’s offense has scored three touchdowns in its last 48 drives, going clear back to Week 6. What it took for the Panthers to find the end zone Sunday was three fourth-down conversions, one set up by a running-into-the-punter penalty. But Young threw a four-yard touchdown to tight end Tommy Tremble, and the game was briefly a one-score game, even early in the fourth quarter.
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Then the Cowboys scored two touchdowns in a span of 10 seconds. Tony Pollard ran 21 yards up the middle for a 24-10 lead, and on the next play, Young’s pass was intercepted by Cowboys cornerback DaRon Bland and returned 30 yards for another score. The Panthers wouldn’t so much as cross midfield again the rest of the way.
“We’ve got to be better,” Reich said. “We’ve got to coach better, got to play better, so that starts with me, as the head coach and playcaller, got to be better.”
Add it all up, and it hasn’t been the ideal supporting cast for Young, who continues to struggle while the No. 2 pick, Houston’s C.J. Stroud, is now an MVP candidate and contending for a playoff spot in his first season. Young has tried to stay positive, even in the face of persistent pressure for much of the game Sunday.
“There’s things I can definitely do better,” he said. “That’s a really good defense, but we’re striving and pushing to be a great offense. Obviously, we know we have a ways to go yet. It’s the NFL. We’re competitors. There’s no excuse. I have to be better, regardless of what’s going on around me.”
Carolina’s continuing free fall puts Reich and his staff in jeopardy of losing their jobs. Just as Young is compared to Stroud, the Panthers can look at the Texans and see their success with a potential Coach of the Year in DeMeco Ryans, the third coach in three years for Houston.
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Sunday saw Panthers fans outnumbered in their home stadium, with the Cowboys faithful loud enough that Carolina’s offense had to employ a silent count during a home game.
“It’s very frustrating, when you’ve worked hard and you believe in the guys you’re doing it with,” Reich said. “I believe in our coaches and players. Not getting the results you want is frustrating. I’m frustrated most of all for them, but I’m certainly frustrated for the fans as well. I’ve been in this game a long time, have a great appreciation for fan bases wherever I’ve been, what that means to a team and a city. I understand the level of frustration by the fans.”
Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.
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