CHARLOTTE — Bryce Young played the worst game of his young career.
He knew it. They knew it. And to a man, everyone who talked about him talked in terms of unwavering support, primarily because it's what he's offered the rest of them through a difficult start of the season.
Young threw three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, and the Panthers dropped a 27-13 decision to the Colts to fall to 1-7 Sunday.
There were plenty of problems beyond Young's turnovers, but they were obviously the killers on a day when the Panthers made enough plays on defense and special teams to have a chance.
"Obviously, we're family, we talk about that a lot," left tackle Ikem Ekwonu said. "After the game, we all just show love for each other, just support each other. And Bryce is honestly one of the best guys to do that.
"He's one of the biggest guys that supports other people, shares the love, and that's something that we appreciate, I appreciate him for."
Ekwnou knows because Young has been there for him through some recent struggles. When he had a rough stretch recently, he said Young was in his ear, telling him he believed in him.
"Bryce did a great job of motivating me, and I think I took some little mistakes off the tape," Ekwonu said. "Basically, he said, be that dog. And, you know, he believed in me. That's something that goes a long way."
Ekwonu has needed it this season. Young definitely needed it Sunday night.
He's made mistakes previously. This was his third multi-pick game, but the first time it hemorrhaged into something like this.
They keep telling him they believe in him. Panthers head coach Frank Reich made it clear in the aftermath. He was asked at one point if he had considered or would consider playing backup Andy Dalton.
"I suppose that's a fair question," Reich began. "But I can honestly tell you that thought's never even came close to my mind."
Reich draws back on all his years in the game and knows how hard this is for any rookie. So, for him, these are lessons. Make no mistake, they're painful lessons — he called Sunday "a step backward, offensively" — but he thinks they're going to have an eventual benefit. It's just really hard waiting for the payoff when it goes this poorly.
"It happens. You know what I mean? And I'm just not going to panic," Reich said. "Listen, I hate that it happened because, like we said, the defense played well. This is a game we should have, . . . hey, I give them credit, they beat us. But, you know, I thought we had a great week of practice, and I expected us to win this game.
"Offensively, it happens. And as a quarterback, it happens. I told Bryce in there that I've seen the best quarterbacks in the game have way worse games than this. Way worse. So you don't flinch. In some ways, it's good for him to go through this. In some ways, it's good to have to bounce back after something like this.
"So that's what we do. We learn. You don't like to fail. But when you do fail, it's not if we really learn from it, and if we get better from it, it's ultimately put in the category of just another step to getting us where we want to be. And we take some lumps in the meantime, and it sets us back, but we believe in who we're doing it with and the way we're doing it. And so we're accountable for the results. It's a long season. There's a lot of football left, starting Thursday night."
All of those things can be and are possibly true. That didn't make them any easier to hear.
This isn't the first time the struggles of Hall of Famers such as Peyton Manning (3-13 as a rookie, with a league-high 28 picks) or Troy Aikman (0-11 record, twice as many interceptions as touchdowns) have been invoked. It's part of the realities of rookie quarterbacks and the expectations that come with them.
Sunday night, Young didn't appear to be in a place to hear it. He admitted he had to be better for the sake of everyone, but after hitting rock bottom, he was not prepared for the 30,000-foot view.
"Coach obviously has a ton of experience, been around a lot of great quarterbacks," Young said. "You know, there's the perspective part. But obviously, in the moment, as a competitor, I'm just trying to be my best every day. It's not something that I necessarily think about. It's just, you know, I have to be better. I have to be a lot better.
"As a competitor, you don't think about next week while you're on the field, you don't think about next year. You don't think whatever it is. It's all about the here and now; it's a results-based business. So, of course, coaches are going to have perspective, and it's OK to have perspective.
But, for me, it can't change my approach. It's about day-to-day trying to win each day, trying to do the best I can, and you want to be the best. I have to be a lot better."
Reich emphasized the myriad of other problems on Sunday. They committed 10 penalties after just three a week before. They couldn't get Adam Thielen, their one dependable source of passing offense, going (he had just five catches for 29 yards — after getting at least seven receptions for at least 70 yards each of the last six games). There were some officiating calls he didn't agree with that put the Colts in better positions to score.
But make no mistake, this one was about Bryce Young. And he knew it more than any of them.
Beyond the words he said, it was written all over his face.
"I think it's just understanding that, good or bad, you have to be able to turn the page," he said when asked about lessons learned in his first eight games in the NFL. "Whatever it is you've done, positive or negative, doesn't entitle you to anything next week and doesn't entitle you to the next opponent. So just the importance of context.
"We're all competitors. We all feel this. We're going to feel this loss. I certainly do."
"It is what it is. But at the same time, that doesn't entitle me to anything, good or bad, moving forward. And in the NFL, no one feels sorry for anyone. And we have the opportunity where we have to turn the page, and we have to do it quickly. It's a great opportunity for us to be able to bounce back."
It might have been easier, however, if it hadn't required such a painful fall.
View all the action from the Panthers' game against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 9.