CHARLOTTE – When you dominate a stat sheet yet score three points against a team most believe you should have beaten, you're going to have a week like this.
The offensive coordinator will be questioned, and so will the star quarterback.
Monday, head coach Ron Rivera defended his coordinator. Wednesday, Rivera took up for his quarterback.
Asked why Cam Newton's numbers have declined after he had seemingly snapped back to MVP form against the Patriots and Lions, Rivera began listing how the ball bounced the past two weeks.
"The ball ricochets off somebody's hand, tips off another guy's hands; tipped at the line of scrimmage; we drop a pitch," he said. "I just think there's more to it.
"I'd like to think that we all saw the game, we all saw those things happen. It's not like he tried to have them happen, I guess is my point. I think that's why we don't need to start pressing panic buttons."
Sure, it's not Newton's fault rookie Curtis Samuel dropped a pitch that led to Chicago's first defensive touchdown, and it's not on Newton that wideout Kelvin Benjamin didn't box out his defender on Chicago's second.
"We had a couple bad things happen. I'm not sure if you can directly point those at the quarterback," Rivera continued.
But ultimately, when a quarterback's two-game line includes five interceptions and just one touchdown, much of the blame naturally falls on his shoulders.
"I haven't been doing a good job of (staying turnover-free)," Newton admitted. "Whether it's luck of the draw – balls tipping up in the air or just tough decisions – either way, it all falls on my shoulders and I have to be better with that. Eliminating turnovers the last couple of weeks, who knows what the turnout would be?"
Simple math says the answer would likely be a league-best 6-1 record. Of course, it's not that simple. And while the football gods haven't been kind the past couple of weeks, the Panthers have often been their worst enemy.
In this were tennis, we'd call mistakes like Samuel's dropped pitch and Jonathan Stewart's fumble against the Eagles unforced errors. Plus, the offense has done little to scare defenses downfield.
Against the Patriots and Lions, the Panthers combined for 10 plays of 20-plus yards. Against the Eagles and Bears, they had one such play.
"When we're playing Panther football, it's pretty exciting, and when we're not it's just a lethargic team that's out there emotionless," Newton said. "That has to change. We have to give ourselves reasons to celebrate and be enthusiastic while out there on the football field. When you do that, that's contagious."
If there's good news it's that Tampa Bay's defense ranks 30th overall and against the pass. In six games, the Buccaneers have allowed 11 passing touchdowns and 20 passes of 20-plus yards. So if the Panthers can take advantage of a defense susceptible to giving up big plays, their recent fate may turn.
"It is what it is, but nobody cares about my feelings. Nobody cares if the ball popped up in the air and got tipped or what have you," Newton said. "It's just on us to make sure that when we have opportunities to make plays and to do things that we know we're capable of doing, we've just got to do it."