CHARLOTTE — Panthers head coach Frank Reich insisted he saw signs of progress in his offense and doubled down on his role in calling it after a 20-17 loss to the Saints in the home opener.
The Panthers are averaging 260.0 yards and 17 first downs per game in their first two and have converted just 9-of-28 third downs on the season (32.1 percent).
As a result, they're 0-2, but Reich said there were individual parts of the process that he liked.
"I've seen this before. It's not that far away," Reich said as he opened his press conference. "It looks bad, but really, I don't believe it's that far away.
"You know, we make a couple of plays here and there, and next thing you know, you've got 28, 30 points. I just, I know that's true. I know we have the players and the coaches to do it. I have zero doubt about that. It's just we have to execute better on offense."
That execution was not there until the final drive when the Saints (perhaps easing into the night with a 20-9 lead) allowed a late touchdown and two-point conversion to make the score close. But other than that late drive, the offense moved in fits and spurts, failing to run the way they did last week in Atlanta, and with rookie quarterback Bryce Young failing to find a rhythm.
Reich was even asked, two games into his debut as the first offensive-minded head coach in franchise history, if he considered having offensive coordinator Thomas Brown call plays.
Brown called the second halves of preseason games, and Reich has said he wants Brown to succeed him at some point. But he said that after two games, he's not making changes to what he called a "collaborative" play-calling process.
"Yeah, that's not a change I would make in-game," Reich said. "Listen, the way I've mentioned this before, the way we call plays, I'm calling the plays, but it's very collaborative. I'm talking to those guys on the sideline, but I'm the one who calls them. And you know, I'm always going do what I think is best for the team right now. I think it's best for the team that I'm calling the plays.
"I'm confident in the play calling. We've all got to get better, but I'm not ready to do anything there. Thomas is a great coach. One day, I do want him to call it. When that will be? I don't know."
— The Panthers started the game with new starters at both guard spots and ended the game with a different pair.
Rookie Chandler Zavala moved from right guard in the opener to his natural left side after the season-ending injury to Brady Christensen. And Cade Mays started the game at right guard but didn't finish.
Mays had a few rough spots, including a false start when they appeared to be going for a fourth-and-1. Late in the game, they replaced him with veteran Calvin Throckmorton, a waiver claim from the Saints who has 20 starts in 33 NFL appearances.
"We had talked about giving him a few plays in the game," Reich said of Throckmorton. "So that was kind of planned out."
The Panthers only used two combinations of starting offensive linemen in 17 games last season. They're at two so far through two games, and could be looking at more in the coming weeks, even before right guard Austin Corbett is ready to return from his torn ACL at some point after Week 4.
— The Panthers now have a short week before heading to Seattle next weekend, and Reich said that's where all his focus has to be.
He's aware that teams that start 0-2 rarely make the playoffs (31-of-270 since 1990, or 11.5 percent), but said the only way he knows to prepare is to focus on what's in front of him. In his first year in Indianapolis, he turned a 1-5 start into a 10-6 record and a playoff berth.
"I mean, it's a week-to-week league, all that matters is the next week," Reich said. "So, you know, we started 1-5 and made the playoffs one year. So, I'm not saying that's easy to do. We don't want to do that. We don't want to start off poorly, but every year, it happens, so we can't play all the hypothetical scenarios in this league as coaches, and I understand that everybody else has to do that.
"We're thinking about Seattle, we're thinking about, hey, let's watch this tape. Let's see how each one of us can get better and stay in the present. Forget everything else. All that matters is Seattle. This one, there's nothing we can do about it except learn from our mistakes. So we'll learn from our mistakes and get ready for Seattle."
View all the action from the Panthers' game against New Orleans on Monday Night Football.