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Defense lacks answers for early rut

Panthers defense

CHARLOTTE — Sunday was the day the script got flipped, and there were no easy answers for it.

Despite a fairly dramatic comeback by Bryce Young, the early lapses of the Panthers' defense led to a 33-30 loss to the Packers, which is the opposite of the way things have gone lately.

The Panthers had ranked second in the league in total defense since Week 9 but allowed 162 rushing yards to the Packers — 117 of them in the first half — in a dramatic reversal of pattern.

"Give them credit. They did a nice job," interim coach Chris Tabor said of the opponents. "I still like our defense. I do, and I know that we'll bounce back, and that doesn't concern me one bit."

It probably should, since it was so out of character.

The Panthers allowed more rushing yards in the first half than they had in either of their last two games, and the 369 total yards allowed on the day was the most since Miami put 424 on the board in Week 6.

"We didn't do our job today," veteran safety Vonn Bell said curtly because this was not the kind of thing they're used to talking about after games. "As a whole defensive unit, as a collective unit, we've got to do our job."

It did improve in the second half, and the Panthers did come back for a last-second finish, but the hole they found themselves in was surprising considering the way they had played lately. The Packers led 23-10, and anything resembling the kind of effort they've been used to from their defense could have changed everything.

"I mean, it definitely caught us off guard, man," cornerback Donte Jackson said. "We were back on our heels a little bit. But like I said, it wasn't anything they were doing; it was everything we were doing to ourselves.

"So we come in at halftime. We dialed up some of the things that we missed. Some of the run fits that we could have been better in, and we knew we were primed for a dominant second half."

That happened as they allowed just 118 yards in the second half, allowing Young to drag the team back for a shot to tie the game.

Panthers defense

But they were clearly gassed, based on the way they played early and the looks on their faces in a quickly dispersing holiday night locker room.

They practiced this week without a number of key players due to illness, and while everyone was cleared to play, that doesn't mean they were 100 percent. Brian Burns, Marquis Haynes Sr., and Yetur Gross-Matos missed Wednesday, and Thursday's practice and Gross-Matos acknowledged he was still green on the practice field Friday.

"There's no way you're going off of that, you know, that was definitely a big factor, but it's not an excuse even if we are not here," Gross-Matos said. "But the job is to be ready to play. I had to go out there and play, so I was willing to go. I got to do it.

"Yeah, the flu is bad, you know, body aches, all that kind of stuff, and, you know, trying to come back and play football when you're so tired, but I've got to do better."

That was a common theme among those who talked about it. After so many games this year when they fought only to have the offense leave them hanging, this was hard for them to process.

"Just not playing good assignment football, and I feel like our room was probably a big part of that," Gross-Matos admitted. "We just weren't sharp enough. At least I wasn't sharp enough. They kind of got away from us, and we had to fight."

They're used to doing that, which speaks to Tabor's defiant reply in defense of his defense.

Jordan Love, Frankie Luvu

"I mean, it ain't always going to be perfect," linebacker Frankie Luvu said. "We try to go out there and do it to get the job done, you know what I mean? So we just came up short, you know? It wasn't anything in particular they were doing; it was everything they showed, they did it on film."

That made it hurt that much worse, knowing that this time, they were the thing preventing a dramatic win for a team that needed one.

"We've got to fight to get him stops and just give him a chance to go down and win the game one more time," cornerback Jaycee Horn said of Young. "We got to get off the field ...

"They had a lot of success early but, you know, we just turned it on too late. We've got to come out more ready to play."

View all the action from the Panthers' game against the Green Bay Packers in Week 16.

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