CHARLOTTE — The Panthers made more than their share of mistakes on offense Sunday, but it wasn't as if their defense was blameless.
Despite the three turnovers that plagued them, the Panthers still were within a score when their defense sprung a regrettable leak.
After they had forced the Falcons into a third-and-14 with 2:51 left in the game, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan hit Kyle Pitts on the back side of the formation for a 23-yard gain. That allowed the Falcons to keep the drive going, and a Matt Ryan sneak three plays later put them in position to kneel out the clock.
"They can't lose Kyle Pitts," Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said. "It happened, but it can't. It's our base, day-one coverage. We had them. He should be caught and tackled. It should be fourth down. We should have the ball back, going down to score. They got jet motion. Someone just has bad eyes and doesn't put their eyes where they are supposed to be.
"At the end of the day, they made the plays to win the game. That play should never happen."
The Panthers also did not record a sack Sunday, and didn't do enough of a job of getting off the field. The Falcons were a combined 9-of-16 on third- and fourth-down conversions. Defensive end Brian Burns said it wasn't a matter of effort, but the fact the Panthers have lost eight of their last 10 games is getting harder to handle.
"That's hard to pinpoint why it's not working out, but I definitely can agree that people are putting the work in, people are working hard and doing what they have to do," Burns said. "It just comes down to following your progress and really just leaning back on your fundamentals. Just have to stick with the process."
Asked if he was frustrated by not seeing the results, he replied: "Very, but it's on us. We're making this bed, and we have got to lay in it. We know what to do, we know what we have to focus on, and it's just not getting down, and at the end of the day, you just have to get it done."
— Quarterback PJ Walker acknowledged there were some communications issues to be ironed out, after the Panthers made a change in play-callers this past week.
Senior offensive assistant Jeff Nixon took over after the team parted ways with offensive coordinator Joe Brady.
Nixon has generally worked on the sidelines, but was upstairs on the headset Sunday. The team took part of Friday's walkthrough inside Bank of America Stadium, so Nixon could get some practice getting play-calls in.
"We still need to work on some things," Walker said when asked of Nixon's first game. "We still need to get things going. The two-minute was a little different, but I think once he gets rolling, he gets rolling."
— Rhule said that Cam Newton would continue to start at quarterback, but that he wanted to continue to use Walker from time to time as a change of pace.
Walker did rally them late, hitting Robby Anderson to get the margin to eight points late.
"We wanted to play P.J.," Rhule said. "We thought P.J. was going to do some good things for us in the game. But he went back in the second, obviously in the fourth quarter under kind of a duress situation and moved the ball for us as he typically does, but we got down inside the 40 and weren't able to score, and then obviously the defense got that fumble, and we were able to capitalize.
"That was just something we planned on doing was playing P.J. in a role in this game."