CHARLOTTE – Earlier in the week, head coach Ron Rivera said quarterback Cam Newton would be dealing with nagging soreness until February.
Sunday night's 37-19 loss to the Steelers certainly won't accelerate that timetable. But just as managing pain is a part of the game, so too is managing to assess and move past a rough night in a long season.
"We played a great team, and my hat goes off to the Steelers," Newton said. "Either way we look at it, we played into their hands."
Carolina struggled to run the ball and stay in manageable down-and-distance situations. And when the Steelers began to pull away in the second half, it created obvious passing situations, which allowed the Pittsburgh defense to pressure the passer without hesitation.
"(We need) better production, whether passing the ball or running the ball, on early downs so that we can stay out of third-and-longs that we gave the defense so they can dial up blitzes left and right," Newton said.
Added head coach Ron Rivera: "If they get a lead early, they can do what they want to do and that's what happened. They dictated the pace."
And they came after Newton, who picked himself up and continued battling after taking a series of hard hits and being sacked three times. Rivera inserted Derek Anderson into the game in the final minutes to protect his starting quarterback from any further punishment.
"We didn't do a good job protecting Cam, and it showed," center Ryan Kalil said. "You can't have guys hitting your quarterback and having free shots, and he took a lot of them tonight."
Newton completed 24-of-35 passes for 250 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions for a 98.5 passer rating, but the offense never found its rhythm.
"At times, we flashed," Newton said. "But more times we looked out of sync."
The absence of starting running back DeAngelo Williams didn't help matters, nor did the absence of starting wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery.
Injuries have made it hard for Carolina's offense to get in sync, and while he admits it's frustrating, Newton will have none of it as an excuse after his team's first loss of the year.
"As a professional, you have to focus on and worry about the cards you're dealt," Newton said. "So much is going to be thrown at you, but you can't let that distract or deter you from what you play this game for.
"And we play this game to win."