CHARLOTTE – A week ago, the Panthers looked so resilient, so poised, and so able to overcome adversity.
This week, with their starting quarterback back in the lineup, they proved they're still a young team that needs to get better at many things, but one of the first items on that list is simply learning how to win. Figuring out where to start the list after that will take longer.
The Panthers wasted a week's worth of good feelings by dropping a 28-27 decision at Minnesota in which everyone had a hand in the failure of the waning moments.
The offense was unable to finish the game from the 3-yard line, after a Vikings' turnover gave them a chance to, settling for a field goal when a touchdown would have sealed it. That was consistent with a day of settling, as the Panthers managed just three points in three trips to the red zone.
The defense failed to stop the Vikings in the final two minutes, even without top receiver Adam Thielen. Instead, Kirk Cousins drove them 75 yards in 65 seconds without timeouts, hitting Chad Beebe for the game-deciding touchdown.
Even with all that collective collapse, the Panthers still had a chance at a manageable field goal to win the game, with Joey Slye pushing a 54-yard attempt wide left. They also had a field goal blocked earlier in the game, and the three points in three trips to the red zone underscored the kind of game it was.
Panthers coach Matt Rhule added himself to the top of the list, and there were game-management issues late that kept them from celebrating a very winnable game. He opened his postgame comments by noting that they held Vikings star running back Dalvin Cook to 61 yards rushing and had two defensive scores. Those things should point to a comfortable win, but there was nothing comfortable about this.
"I didn't think that obviously was good enough by us," Rhule said. "And I've always tried to be really honest and real and direct about where I think the fault is. I think as a coaching staff, we didn't get the job done today. I think anytime you have two defensive touchdowns and you don't win, it's on you.
"Anytime that you hold them to  yards, it's on us as a staff. To not be able to put the game away with the ball at the 10-yard line with two minutes left is unacceptable by us as a staff. To not to be able to stop them and then not be able to make the field goal at the end with a chance to win the game – we had three opportunities to close it out and we did not do it."
Rhule maintained his belief that the Panthers were a good team, even though results do not immediately suggest that.
"We have not closed these types of games out," he said. "And tonight, I feel like I try to look and see where the fault lies, and today I would put it squarely on us as a staff, which starts with me. "
The fact this story has gone on this long without mentioning Jeremy Chinn illustrates how ridiculous the final moments were.
The rookie linebacker scored a pair of touchdowns on back-to-back Vikings' snaps in the third quarter, returning a pair of fumbles. He became the first player in the Super Bowl era with multiple fumble recovery touchdowns in the same game.
The postgame mood kept him from celebrating an incredible achievement, but that was muted — and moot — because he was also on the field for the late collapse.
"We just have to finish," Chinn said. "I feel like I say that all the time, but we can't let our opponent breathe. We're playing good as a defense and we've just got to keep it going and put the nail in the coffin."
They did not.
And because they didn't, a team that could have been feeling good about a two-game winning streak is now faced with the reality that they're 4-8 and have lost six of their last seven games.
That's a very different atmosphere going into the bye for a team that could use any confidence that could be gained as they rebuild.
Defensive tackle Zach Kerr, who forced the fumble which Chinn returned for the first score, said he didn't think it would impact the confidence of the team, because the roster is filled with so many young players, or guys who have found their way here after being cut by others.
"That's our culture. That's who we are," Kerr said. "I don't know how many times I've said this, but you go down our roster and you look at the guys that are on our team and all of us are fighters. We're all underdogs, we've all been overlooked, so staying positive and keep fighting, that's easy for us. That's not hard for us, that's really easy.
"I don't think there's really any reason or specific anything for us to go the opposite direction. We've been the same way through wins and losses, so I think it's easy for us to stay where we are."
At the moment, where they are is not in a good place, not a place they could have been, with a little more polish in every phase of the game. And being as close as they were makes it that much more painful.
"I think for myself, I think that's 100 percent in range, just based off what I've put on tape and what I've been able to do," Slye said of his third miss on a game-winning field goal this season, a much different kick than longshots against the Saints and Chiefs earlier this year.
"A 54-yarder is something that should be in my wheelhouse and should be somewhat of a kick that's a higher percentage for not only myself but for the team to view," Slye continued. "For me not to do what they sent me out there to do and what I feel comfortable hitting is frustrating for me.
"I want to put myself in a lot of those situations to put the team on my back and kind of wear that hat on my head and help us in different ways, and today I let the team down, so I'm pretty frustrated about that."
And at the moment, having plenty of company in that regard is no consolation.
View in-game photos from Carolina's Week 12 game at Minnesota.