PHILADELPHIA – The Panthers have gotten help from other teams to stay alive in the NFC South race, and they may continue to get help. But it won't matter if the Panthers don't figure out how to help themselves.
"Hit the nail right on the head," safety Thomas DeCoud said.
After a 45-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Monday night, Carolina has now lost four consecutive games and is winless in its last five.
The Panthers turned the ball over a season-high fives times and tied a franchise record by allowing nine sacks, while the Eagles scored touchdowns in all three phases.
"We didn't play well offensively, defensively or in special teams," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "When you do that, you get this kind of result."
This was another case of trouble right from the start. Self-inflicted wounds hurt Carolina early, creating a big hole that only got bigger as the game progressed.
Running back DeAngelo Williams lost a fumble on the second play of the game, which led to a 39-yard Cody Parkey field goal.
On the first play of the next series, quarterback Cam Newton's pass for wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was intercepted by cornerback Cary Williams at the Carolina 43.
"You can't do that in the first quarter, and we've done that a couple times this year," head coach Ron Rivera said. "You are not going to win football games that way."
Five plays later, Eagles running back Darren Sproles ran untouched for an 8-yard touchdown, and it was 10-0 in a flash.
"We can't expect to win football games starting like that," Newton said.
Carolina responded with an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to get back into it. A 38-yard pass down the seam to tight end Greg Olsen set up an eventual 1-yard touchdown run by running back Jonathan Stewart.
But later in the first quarter punter Brad Nortman was forced to punt out of his end zone, and that went horribly wrong for the Panthers. Sproles fielded the punt with plenty of space to maneuver and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown.
The Eagles extended their lead in the second quarter with a 10-play, 91-yard drive that culminated with a 13-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mark Sanchez to wide receiver Jordan Matthews.
Trailing 24-7 with 4:25 remaining in the second quarter, the Panthers went for it on fourth down on what Rivera called "a long one yard" from the Philadelphia 26-yard line. But Newton's pass down the sideline for well-covered wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery was overthrown and fell incomplete.
"They played it well," Cotchery said. "I thought it was a good (play) call."
Carolina got the ball back still trying to cut into Philadelphia's big lead with 2:48 to go in the first half, but the team's third turnover increased the deficit. Newton's pass to wide receiver Jason Avant went right to Eagles cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who returned it 34 yards for a touchdown.
Newton tossed his third interception of the game on a heave for the end zone in the closing seconds of the half.
Carolina committed its fifth turnover on its first possession of the second half. Linebacker Connor Barwin, who recorded 3.5 sacks, and linebacker Brandon Graham combined to strip-sack Newton, and defensive end Vinny Curry recovered the loose ball at the Panthers' 30-yard line.
"Defensively, they got after us, and we didn't do anything to slow it down," Rivera said.
Philadelphia wasted no time adding to the lead, as Sanchez threw a pinpoint 29-yard pass to tight end Brent Celek on the first play of the drive. Running back LeSean McCoy then ran for a 1-yard touchdown to make it 38-7 with 7:40 left in the third quarter.
Matthews' second touchdown reception gave the Eagles a 45-7 early in the fourth quarter.
After 35 consecutive points, Benjamin made a hard-fought 21-yard touchdown catch with 9:05 left in the game and hauled in a 40-yard touchdown in the closing minutes.
"We are running out of time, quite honestly," Rivera said. "I've got to coach better, the coaches have got to coach better, we've got to practice better, and more importantly we've got to play better. And we've got to do it together as a team."