CHARLOTTE — The Panthers are 0-2, and in the bottom-line business of the NFL, that's not good enough.
That sentiment is clear to everyone, and there are no excuses.
But for a young team operating with a new head coach, there have been some encouraging signs in the first two losses.
In Week 1, the Panthers trailed the Raiders by 12 points midway through the third quarter but rallied with 15 straight to take a 30-27 lead in the final period. Then on Sunday, Carolina faced a 21-0 halftime deficit in Tampa Bay but scored 14 straight to make it 21-14 early in the fourth quarter.
Clearly, the Panthers didn't do enough to win either game. But they also didn't roll over at a game's critical turning point.
When wide receiver Robby Anderson fumbled away Carolina's first possession of the second half in Tampa, things looked dire. But cornerback Donte Jackson responded well to the sudden change, intercepting Tom Brady's errant pass to set up the Panthers' first touchdown.
"We're going to keep fighting, and we're going to let teams know that it's never over with us," Jackson said afterward.
That's the positive. But the Panthers have made too many mistakes in their first two games to leave with wins. The defense couldn't hold a fourth-quarter lead in Week 1, nullifying the offense's 30-point output. Then the offense committed four giveaways in Week 2, and that's always going to be challenging to overcome.
"We have tremendous competitive toughness," Rhule said. "We just have to put a total team effort together. It's coming. It's on the way."
Losing running back Christian McCaffrey for multiple weeks with a high ankle sprain won't help in that endeavor. He's tied for the league lead with four total touchdowns and accounted for 223 yards from scrimmage as the best player on Carolina's offense. So it'll be up to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and others to help fill the void.
"I just have to continue to attack each day coming in with that mindset, let the guys around me feel me," Bridgewater said. "As long as they see I have that determination in my eye, I come to work every day with a chip on my shoulder, everyone's going to elevate their game also."
Bridgewater's experience from the 2019 season, when he started five games in place of Saints quarterback Drew Brees, is a good example of what can happen when a team loses one of its best players but finds other ways to win.
"Throughout the course of the season, you look around the league and teams are losing guys. That's the unfortunate part of this game," Bridgewater said. "We always talk about, 'I'm ready coach, just put me in.' But we have to ask ourselves, are we truly ready? I think this week is going to be good for guys to compete, fly around, and just prove themselves."
But the only way the Panthers are going to get from competitive to the win column is if they cut down on their self-inflicted wounds. Right now, the margin of error is too thin for the team to err in critical situations.
"If we can just get out of our own way," Bridgewater said, "I think we'll have a pretty good football team."
NEWS AND NOTES
— While it wasn't one of the Panthers four giveaways on Sunday, the club did turn it over on downs after a failed fake punt in the second quarter. On fourth-and-2 from Tampa Bay's 36-yard line, Rhule felt the field goal distance of 54 yards was outside kicker Joey Slye's range on the windy day. Instead, safety Jeremy Chinn received a direct snap but got tackled short of the sticks.
"Unfortunately, we missed one block, and it didn't work," Rhule said. "I'd love to be able to go back, but I can't."
— Rookie defensive tackle Derrick Brown drew two penalties against the Bucs: one for unnecessary roughness and another for illegal use of hands. Both flags came on third down and extended Tampa Bay drives. But Rhule isn't concerned about the first-round pick.
"Derrick cares greatly. I had him come meet with me (Monday) morning, and I told him, forget the penalties," Rhule said. "He's 335 pounds, he's running 20 yards down the field, he can't stop, and he lands on the guy. I said try to get rid of it, but he's playing the way we want to play.
"The aggressive penalties, I can live with."
— Carolina used the new rules to promote Woodrow Hamilton from the practice squad to the active roster, and the defensive tackle didn't throw away his shot. Hamilton had both a run stuff and a fumble recovery in 13 snaps, making the most of limited action.
"I was proud to see him go out there, proud to see him make some plays, and we'll look to see how his role improves as we move forward," Rhule said.
View the best photos from the field and behind-the-scenes in Carolina's Week 2 game at Tampa Bay.