Four Downs: Panthers haunted by red-zone woes in loss to ‘Hawks

Panthers tailback Jonathan Stewart (94 total yards) gutted out 79 rushing yards against the defending champion Seahawks, who have defeated Carolina in Charlotte for three straight seasons.

Jeremy Brevard

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Here are four observations from the Seahawks’ 13-9 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday — the third straight season Seattle has logged nearly 2,300 flight miles to eke out a win at Bank of America Stadium:

1. Red-Zone Woes

Moving the ball on sustained drives hasn’t been the Panthers’ problem this season. But getting touchdowns — instead of settling for field goals — has been especially problematic in the red zone.

Entering Sunday, the Panthers ranked 23rd in touchdowns, converting just 52.2 percent of their trips inside their opponents’ 20-yard line.

It was even worse on Sunday, as Carolina (3-4-1) went 0 for 3 in red-zone touchdown conversions. In all, the Panthers managed just six points inside the Seahawks’ 20, settling for two field goals and suffering through an untimely Cam Newton fumble.

"We knew we needed to put the ball in the end zone down there," said Panthers receiver Jerricho Cotchery. "We knew that if we kept settling for threes that it would come back and bite us in the behind, and that’s what it did."

Several offensive players mananged to produce the same one-word response when asked about Carolina’s red-zone scoring troubles: Execution.

"We’ve just got to score. We’ve got to execute," said left tackle Byron Bell. "We’ve just got to find a way to get the ball in the end zone. We left 21 points out there. There isn’t anything (Seattle) did. We did it to ourselves. We’ve just got to finish."

It was evident that Newton was extremely frustrated with the Panthers’ inability to produce touchdowns.

"When you get inside the 5, you have to scratch, crawl, spit, grip, find a way, and we know that," he said. "It just has to settle in when we’re in the heat of battle. We didn’t do a good job of that and it’s happened a lot since I’ve been here. Also, we have scored in those situations, as well.

"There’s nobody to point the finger at. Gritting your teeth and saying, ‘Look, we’ve got two yards to go, one yard to go, come hell or high water, we have to get it.’"

2. Not So Fast

All week, Newton talked about how the offense needs to get out of the blocks faster and actually start producing points. After all, through the first seven games, Carolina was averaging 2.4 points in the first quarter and 7.6 points in the first half.

Things looked promising early for the Panthers as they took their opening drive and went deep into Seattle territory, before settling for a field goal. Even so, that’s still more than what they had been averaging in the opening 15 minutes.

Carolina’s second drive looked just as good as the first; but once again, the main objective — scoring a touchdown — gave way to another Panthers field goal.

"At the end of the day, it comes down to execution and not being able to sustain the drives to put points on the board," Cotchery said. "This game is about making plays. It’s tight down in the red zone and it’s about executing the plays."

Carolina did have one more chance at points in the opening half, but Newton fumbled deep in Seattle territory to end the threat.

"I wish I could (put my finger on what’s happening)," he said. "But one thing that I know for sure is it’s going to take a little more focus on our part to find a way. Whether from blocking schemes, the executing, the catching, the throwing accuracy or just running.

"We have to do better. We know that. We don’t need nobody to tell us that when we look at the statistics at the end of the game. But hindsight is 50-50 (sic)."

3. Living The Good Life

Throughout the game, just when it seemed Seattle was on the verge of doing something good or big, it would inevitably commit a penalty or some unforced mistake.

In other words, the final score could have been much worse for the Panthers.

Conversely, each time Carolina made a mental or physical error, nothing bad seemed to come of it. Yes, Newton fumbled once and threw an interception, but let’s consider the Panthers’ fortunate bounces:

1st Q
**Fumbled punt on first possession, recovered.
**Dropped interception by Seattle at 4:10 mark.

2nd Q
**Ed Dickson fumbled at 8:45 mark, but the ball went out of bounds.
**Seattle throws interception in end zone in final seconds of first half to prevent more points.

3rd Q
**Seahawks tight end Cooper Helfet is wide open near the end zone, but ball slips out of Russell Wilson’s hands and goes incomplete.
**Seattle dropped interception at 5:14 mark.
**’Hawks fumble snap at Panthers’ 22 with 1:01 left.

4th Q
**Another possible interception bounces off several Seattle defenders on a screen pass intended for Greg Olsen at the 13:25 mark. **First-and-goal at the 8, Seattle commits holding penalty, settles for field goal.

4. Odds And Ends

**Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was benched for a few plays early on, but head coach Ron Rivera wouldn’t say why — other than the rookie needs to be held accountable for his actions.

It’s usually the type of punishment reserved for a player who’s late for a midweek meeting. Benjamin finished with four catches for 94 yards.

**For only the second time this season, the Panthers actually put forth a running game that wasn’t filled with yardage, well after the outcome had been decided. Jonathan Stewart looked good and strong as he plowed his way for 79 yards on 16 carries.

**After running for 106 yards last week against St. Louis, Wilson had zero rushing attempts in the first half. That changed in the second half as he finished with six carries for 35 yards, including keeping several drives alive on third downs by running.

**The Panthers, who haven’t won in four weeks, are still in first place in the NFC South, regardless of what the Saints (2-4) do against the Packers on Sunday night. Carolina hosts New Orleans on Thursday night.

**Carolina defensive end Mario Addison, who recovered a fumble, had a tough week. His father died in Birmingham, Ala., and the services were Saturday. Addison got back to Charlotte late Saturday night.

Following the game, Rivera sought him out in the locker room and gave him a private message.