Four Downs: Panthers’ offensive woes continue in loss to Saints

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has been sacked 10 times in the past three games while throwing for only 534 yards.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With the season essentially hanging in the balance, the Carolina Panthers took on NFC South rival New Orleans and the results were far from what they’d hoped for as the Saints dominated for the 28-10 win on Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium.

Here are four observations from the game:

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton entered Thursday’s game on a bad stretch over the previous two games. 

Two weeks ago against Green Bay, receivers bailed him out time and time again with big time catches, though it really didn’t matter as the Packers blew out Carolina. Then last week against Seattle, his throws were all over the place to help give the Panthers a two-game losing streak.

He was hoping to put that all behind him against the Saints. Unfortunately, it only got worse as he finished the first half 5-for-15 for 47 yards, with an interception and a fumble lost.

All told, over those 10 quarters, Newton was a woeful 34-for-68 (50 percent) for 423 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and two fumbles lost. 

To put that into perspective, four different quarterbacks have thrown for more than 423 yards in a single game this season. 

Newton finished the game 10-of-28 for 151 yards, to go along with an interception and fumble lost. The 35.7 completion percentage and completions are the lowest of his career. 

"I need to be better. I need to play better," Newton said. "I know if I do that we’ll move in the right direction. …

"I think this time off will allow everyone to do a lot of self-scouting. I know I missed a lot of throws and I’m not going to blame anybody else."

Before the season started, the concerns on the offensive line were at the forefront of fans and media types, alike. The one thing there was very little about was the defense. It was because of the defense than those same folks thought the Panthers would have a chance to make the playoffs because of its dominance last season. 

But what a difference a season makes.

The defense ranks near the bottom of many statistical categories and its inability to slow down the opposition and get off the field was in full bloom against New Orleans. 

The Saints put together drives of 85, 80, 80 and 67 yards. Three of them led to touchdowns while the other resulted in a fluky interception deep in Carolina territory. All four of those drives consisted of at least nine plays with three of those drives getting into double digits.

"At the end of the day, we’ve got to do whatever it takes for this team to win," said Panthers safety Roman Harper. "I’m tired of hearing keep your head up."

To show just how in control New Orleans was from start to finish, quarterback Drew Brees was 7-for-7 for 83 yards and a touchdown when targeting tight end Jimmy Graham.

"It’s like dating a girl for eight years and having her walking away with your best friend," Harper said of the feeling he has following another tough loss.

It really doesn’t matter how good the defense plays for Carolina if the offense can’t score points and/or touchdowns.

In the last three games for the Panthers, the first-team offense has scored just two touchdowns and managed a total of 29 points. That breaks down to 9.67 points per game.

Carolina would have a hard time winning even if it had the defense of the 1985 Chicago Bears with that scoring output. For the record, the Bears allowed 12.4 points per game en route to their Super Bowl title.

"The talent’s there," said Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil. "Honestly, I think we’re not disciplined enough, speaking offensively. We’ve just got to be more consistent. We have to make plays when plays are there, and we haven’t done that. We’ve got to figure out a way to do that."

For his part, Newton said he’s still searching for what the problem is for the team’s offense.

"I’m not sure, but we’ve got the answers in our room, I can tell you that," he said. "Everybody’s looking for a magic play. Everybody’s looking for somebody to say something, for somebody to do something, and take responsibility for themselves."

Defensive end Greg Hardy, who drew national scrutiny earlier this season for being charged and found guilty of domestic assault on a female and communicating threats, had his trial date of Nov. 17, moved to a later date following the season, according to numerous reports.

Hardy hasn’t played since Week 1 against Tampa. He was listed as inactive in Week 2, and then put on the Commissioner’s Exempt List prior to the third game of the season.

Bleacher Report reported that Hardy will look into possibly asking NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for reinstatement. It’s anybody’s guess how that request will be met, but one would have to assume the odds would be small.

Hardy is in his fifth season with the Panthers and is making $13.1 million this year. His contract is up at the end of the year and it’s exceedingly unlikely he will return to the team regardless of what the outcome of his trial is.

Follow Brett Jensen on Twitter at @Brett_Jensen