ATLANTA – Plenty of things have gone wrong during the Panthers' funk that on Sunday extended into a five-game losing streak. But no statistic reveals the extent of the problems more than this:
Over the five-game stretch, Carolina has turned the ball over 13 times while forcing just one takeaway.
"Really?" safety Eric Reid asked.
"Well, the formula's always the same," Reid continued. "We've got to get takeaways, and we haven't been doing that. So the result of the game shows what happens when you don't take the ball away."
Sure, and we'll get to the lack of takeaways. But let's start with the giveaways.
There were four more on Sunday. Two fumbles, two interceptions.
Quarterback Kyle Allen now has 12 picks in his past seven games after beginning his career with none in his first five starts.
For what it's worth, the first interception wasn't on Allen. That was a beautifully thrown ball that landed in the hands of safety Damontae Kazee after it was bobbled by tight end Ian Thomas. But Allen's second pick, also by Kazee, came after Allen threw back across his body 40 yards downfield into double coverage. That was the Panthers' third turnover of the third quarter which also featured a fumbled kickoff return by Greg Dortsch and a Vic Beasley strip-sack of Allen three plays into the second half.
"We were driving, and that sack-fumble really hurt us, and they scored on the next drive," said Allen, who's lost seven fumbles this season. "Then we had the fumble on the kickoff return, the interception by me, the interception in the first half, too. It's just kind of the same things. Just shooting ourselves in the foot.
"In the first half, I was pleased with what we did and I thought we gave ourselves a shot. Then it just got out of hand."
That it came against Atlanta — again — makes it sting that much more. In their two matchups with the Panthers this season, the Falcons totaled eight takeaways and six interceptions. In their 11 other games, the Falcons have combined for six takeaways and four interceptions.
Now, about Carolina's takeaway problem. Thieves Ave. has been shuttered for nearly two months.
Remember back in Week 6 when the Panthers took seven turnovers from Tampa Bay? In its seven games since that rout in London, Carolina has five takeaways. Three came in a win over Tennessee, the Panthers' lone victory in this stretch. The two other takeaways were split between losses to Green Bay and New Orleans.
"We're just so deteriorated, man. We're missing guys up front that we really miss," safety Tre Boston said, referring to injuries to defensive tackles Kawann Short and Dontari Poe that have affected the Panthers' run defense.
In their seven games since that win over the Buccaneers, the Panthers have allowed an average of 156.4 rushing yards per game, including the Falcons' season-high 159 yards on Sunday. And as Boston explained, the Panthers' inability to stop the run has created a domino effect.
"Teams don't have to pass versus us," he said. "Thieving comes when they pass the rock. It sucks. The situation is not allowing us to thieve on a constant basis. We aren't putting these teams through enough trauma to continue passing the ball. They feel comfortable where they can run the ball."
But even when the Panthers have had chances for takeaways, they haven't taken advantage. Last week against Washington, they failed to recover two Redskins' fumbles. Sunday, Reid had a Matt Ryan pass bounce off his hands.
"I obviously should have caught that," Reid admitted. "I got ahead of myself. I should have secured the catch before looking to run. Plays like that cost you games."
Because it was a 30-10 game at the time, it's not like Reid's drop was fatal for the Panthers. But still, if they don't drastically improve on their negative-12 turnover differential over the past five games, it'll be hard to expect different results over these final three weeks.
"You have to get past those numbers. That's the key to winning in this league," interim head coach Perry Fewell said.
"Not only the players know, but all of you and the fans know that, hey, if we continue to turn the football over and don't take care of it and do some of the things we're going, we won't be successful."