BALTIMORE — A few big things doomed the Panthers on Sunday, beginning with their general inability to move the ball against the Ravens.
But as they began to dissect their 13-3 loss at Baltimore, they pointed to a litany of small mistakes which became painful late in the game.
A game that was tied at 3 for much of the fourth quarter came unraveled late, with three turnovers opening the door for the Ravens to put the game away.
While much of that will fall on quarterback Baker Mayfield, who struggled the way he did the first five games of the year, interim coach Steve Wilks said it was hard to zero in on any one thing.
"It's tough to say right now," Wilks replied when asked about the struggles in the passing game. "I will say it wasn't good enough today across the board. We've got to do better."
They didn't Sunday, managing just 205 yards of total offense. A running game that had been their constant in recent weeks was shut down by the Ravens. Running back D'Onta Foreman tried to put that on himself, saying he "played like s---," and "not to my standard," and he was held to 24 yards on 11 carries after topping 118 yards in three of the last four weeks.
But the problems were institutional, more than on any one player.
The Ravens did their part by sacking Mayfield four times and picking him off twice in the fourth quarter (once on a tipped ball at the line of scrimmage). But between Shi Smith's fourth-quarter fumble, which opened the door for the Ravens to score their only touchdown, and too many penalties (nine for 66 yards), Mayfield was left to invoke the wisdom of Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells when asked how the Panthers could change directions.
"It's truly a mindset of, when you're trying to get over the hump and turn things around, look at our record right now; it's not great," Mayfield began. "But look at how we're losing. You have to fix those things. It's like Parcells said, you have to learn how to stop beating yourself before you learn how to win. Right now, I think today's a pretty good example of that. We have to fix a lot of our own mistakes before we can even be in a position to win. That was the case.
"Being extremely detail-oriented, holding everybody accountable, and not letting anything slide because when it all comes down to it, on the field, this is a (Baltimore) franchise that's been winning for a long time, and they're going to capitalize when you play like that. So you've got to stop beating yourself before anything can happen in a positive direction."
The Panthers did not do that, and part of that was rightly on Mayfield.
Much like the first five games of the season, he failed to convert enough third downs to keep the team on the field (3-of-12 Sunday), and he never hit enough plays downfield until the final few minutes. He finished 21-of-33 for 196 yards with two interceptions (54.6 rating), but those numbers were inflated late. He threw at DJ Moore on the first play of the game but then only twice more all day, as the Ravens were able to take Mayfield's top threat away in addition to the run game.
That will create reasonable questions about the immediate future of the position, but Wilks wasn't ready to go there yet, saying he thought it "would have been a disadvantage" to backup Sam Darnold if they threw him into the game late.
"It's too early to say," Wilks replied when asked who would start next week against the Broncos. "We've got to evaluate the tape, and then from there, we'll make a decision."
But changing from one quarterback to another might not matter as much as the act of changing. While they had a bit of a flow during the PJ Walker era, he suffered a high ankle sprain last week against the Falcons and may not be available.
"I would say, consistency is a big thing when it comes to this game," wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. said when asked about the difference in quarterbacks over the course of the year.
The Panthers haven't had much of that all year offensively, which is why Mayfield admitted frustration.
"It sucks, to be honest with you," he said. "We prepared. I felt like the game plan, felt like everything was ready, and we just didn't execute. And it's tough; I'll be honest with you. I put my heart and soul into this, and this sucks. I just hope everybody else feels the same way; I'll be honest with you. That's how you get things turned around. You have to care about it. . . .
"I think everybody does care, but I think the little details, we'll go back and watch the tape and see what really hurt us. It's small things. It's playing smart, no penalties, and yeah, it hurts. When you let things slide, not saying we've done that throughout the week, but when you don't harp on the details and emphasize it enough, things like today are going to happen."
So far, the Panthers have not figured out a way to turn that corner, particularly against top teams.
As Mayfield noted, the Ravens have learned how to do that. The Panthers have not. Veteran guard Austin Corbett, who was part of a turnaround with the Rams that led to a Super Bowl, acknowledged as much afterward. Changing quarterbacks so often doesn't help, but he also said as linemen, they can't worry about who is behind them (particularly not the way the Ravens played up front.)
"This whole year guys have kind of understood that's part of the ride," Corbett said of quarterback changes. "Tough part of the business, things happen, guys get hurt, but it's just understanding when they have their opportunity they have to make their play. And just continue fighting and scratching and clawing and find a way to win."
Now, they have to push forward, not knowing at the moment if they're about to make another change at quarterback, among other questions that remain unanswered.
View the best in-game photos from Carolina's Week 11 game against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.