CHARLOTTE – As is true with many clubs in the NFL, the team goes as the quarterback goes.
In their 22-10 Week 3 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the Panthers were no exception.
Over the course of the game, quarterback Cam Newton completed 21-of-35 passes for 262 yards. Solid-enough numbers, but not enough with three interceptions, no touchdowns and no completions to top outside targets Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess.
"We have to get our playmakers involved in the game plan," Newton said, "and it starts with me as the signal caller."
Newton started strong by completing his first nine attempts, throwing to six different receivers for 179 yards. Newton's passes converted one third down out of three, moved the sticks five times and led the Panthers to scoring the first 10 points of the game.
But it wasn't simply the positives Newton was doing to lead the team. He was also limiting his negatives.
Newton was sacked three times in the first half but limited the negative yardage to 21 yards. Additionally, his only interception of the opening 30 minutes was on a third-and-15 play with 15 seconds remaining. Though a turnover, cornerback Trae Waynes' pick at the Vikings' 5-yard line led to a kneel-down. No harm done.
The harm that was done was on the first of Newton's sacks. He was standing three yards deep in his own end zone when defensive end Danielle Hunter tackled him with 1:51 remaining in the first quarter, resulting in not only a safety for the Vikings, but also a swing in momentum.
"We were running the football extremely well, keeping them off balance and then all of a sudden, after the safety it was good riddance," said Newton after the game.
The best statistic to describe Newton's third-quarter performance is his 14 total yards – 7 rushing and 7 passing. Add in one sack for a 5-yard loss, and Newton provided the team only 9 yards of offense. To make matters worse, he threw his second interception of the game, this one caught by cornerback Terence Newman at the Panthers' 43-yard line. Fortunately, Carolina was able to hold the Vikings to a field goal, but the damage had already been done. The Vikings already led 19-10.
"We can't turn the ball over," said head coach Ron Rivera. "We can't miss opportunities. You have to give credit to them for keeping us from scoring."
Although the Panthers were held scoreless for 35:25, Carolina was actually very productive in the fourth quarter – but the Vikings defense was better. Newton threw for 88 yards in the final 15 minutes (his best quarter of the game in that regard), averaging over 12.5 yards per completion.
It was his inability to avoid the sack that ultimately cost the Panthers. The offensive line allowed pressure to reach Newton 12 times in the game, and four of those quarterback hits were fourth-quarter sacks, costing the Panthers 38 yards.
"Whatever they were doing was effective," Newton said. "We have to have answers for it so that can't happen again."
View game action photos from Carolina's 22-10 loss to Minnesota.