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Dropped opportunities in red zone

Posted Oct 6, 2013

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Beyond the south end zone at University of Phoenix Stadium stand two words in gigantic bold letters.

"RED ZONE."

For Cardinals fans, those words are used to describe an open area of the stadium concourse where they can observe the action.

For Panthers players and coaches, those two words describe an area of their game that's been frustratingly ineffective.

"It has kind of been our Achilles heel for a while," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "When we get in the red zone we have trouble scoring. Today was really no different."

In Sunday's 22-6 loss to the Cardinals, the Panthers failed to produce a touchdown in three red zone trips.

"We had our opportunities in the red zone multiple times," quarterback Cam Newton said. "We just couldn't seem to get it together."

The first attempt came on Carolina's first possession of the game, when sure-handed wide receiver Steve Smith dropped a third-down pass in the end zone, forcing the Panthers to settle for a field goal.

Three points wasn't ideal, but it was better than nothing.

Nothing is what Carolina came away with after their second red zone trip in the second quarter.

The Panthers elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Arizona 15-yard line. Newton faked a handoff and targeted wide receiver Brandon LaFell, who was wide open over the middle.

LaFell was thinking first down and much more. Instead, he dropped it.

"Even if I catch it and fall it's a first down and we continue to go," LaFell explained. "(It was) me being greedy, trying to run before I catch the ball."

Those were lost opportunities for points and momentum in the first half. And the Panthers were left wondering about the halftime lead they could have had.

"When you don't score touchdowns (in the red zone)," head coach Ron Rivera said, "it takes the wind out of your sails."

Linebacker Luke Kuechly's late third-quarter interception and return to the Arizona 29-yard line gave the Carolina offense a chance to get the ship back on course.

But once again, a red zone trip resulted in no points. On third-and-3 from the 11-yard line, Newton fired a pass for Smith who was well covered on a quick slant.

"When I saw Smitty not get the leverage that I wanted, it was kind of a throwaway (or) put it where he can catch it and no one else," Newton said. "But that's with Steve and the cornerback, not taking into consideration that the linebacker is right there in the (throwing) lane."

Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington intercepted Newton's pass with one hand and returned it 41 yards. That was Carolina's final red zone chance.

Three red zone trips. Three points. And now, three losses.

"We can't expect to win games like this when you turn the ball over and go 0-for in the red zone," Newton said.

"It's bad," LaFell added. "It's something we need to work on and it's something we need to correct ASAP if we are going to win games."