"A difficult week" ends with a difficult loss in Atlanta

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ATLANTA – Interim coach Perry Fewell was standing at the podium addressing Carolina's 40-20 loss at Mercedes-Benz Stadium when he was asked how it felt to be the guy in charge.

"It's pretty bad right now," Fewell said.

Fewell laughed, but he wasn't trying to be funny. The Panthers lost their fifth consecutive game Sunday, dropping their record to 5-8.

"It's the same story, just a different week," running back Christian McCaffrey said.

But this wasn't just any week.

Ron Rivera was relieved of his duties on Tuesday and it was understandably emotional and challenging for the players and the coaching staff.

The last time the Panthers were led by a head coach not named Ron Rivera was in 2010. There was a lot to digest.

"It's been difficult," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "I think guys have been resilient. Guys were sad and bummed out on Tuesday and Wednesday and guys certainly miss Coach Rivera and everything he's brought to this team. But I honestly thought we had a good week of practice. I think guys were focused."

Fewell said he felt in control and the players were confident in the plan.

Then Sunday's game against Atlanta unraveled, and it did so in an all-too familiar way. Carolina turned the ball over four times and failed to take it away. Quarterback Kyle Allen was sacked five times and the Panthers' run defense surrendered 159 yards. The Falcons also managed to score a 93-yard touchdown when an all-out blitz backfired.

A 10-10 game eventually became a 33-10 game. Frustrating? Disappointing? Maddening? All the above.

"Like it is every week – we didn't execute, we didn't make enough plays," wide receiver Curtis Samuel said.

Execution has been the buzzword for a few weeks running. Yes, the offensive play-caller was new against Atlanta with Scott Turner stepping into that role. And yes, the defensive play-caller was also new with Fewell handling the majority of those decisions.

But the execution remained inconsistent across the board.

"We just have to execute better as players," McCaffrey said. "Whatever play is called, whoever the coach is, we have to do a better job executing."

Why have the miscues persisted?

It's a question that's been haunting the Panthers.

"I wish I could put my finger on that," Fewell said. "If I could, then we wouldn't do the things that we have done.

"We have to look at what we're doing and see if we can do it better."

The sting of defeat and the silence that comes with it in the postgame locker room has been there for five consecutive Sundays.

When Fewell gathered the team together, he spoke quietly and deliberately.

"My message to the team was simply this," Fewell said. "We love this game. We chose to play football or coach football. The competitive spirit in all of us – we don't like to lose. We came out on the short end of it today, so we will go back to work, back into the grind, we will reset, we will refocus and we'll work to get a win next week."

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