CHARLOTTE — For the second half of last season, the Panthers created an identity on offense, and it started with the offensive line.
This year, that's part of the problem for the Panthers.
In Sunday's 21-13 loss to the Vikings, the Panthers allowed a season-high five sacks, all in the second half.
Any of them could have been survivable — except perhaps the third quarter one, which led to a Bryce Young fumble-turned-touchdown, which gave the Vikings a lead they'd never give back — but the larger pattern is a troubling one for the Panthers. Last week, it was false starts, seven of them on the offensive line in a loss at noisy Seattle, which was referred to as "unacceptable."
That word came up again this week.
"You know, we just, we got to sustain longer," center Bradley Bozeman said. "We've got to, got to do better. It's unacceptable.
"We're just going to continue to work, continue to try to try to keep him upright, not let him get touched. I think we started off doing something. And then we just, we didn't maintain.
"So, we've just got to continue to work on that, continue to make people feel comfortable back there, and give them all the time in the world."
Of course, this isn't the same line as last year, or the same offense. They aren't running the same stripped-down power-running style as the second half of last year. This is a more sophisticated offense, one that hasn't clicked yet, but a different animal nevertheless.
It's also not the same group of people. They're still waiting on right guard Austin Corbett to return from last year's torn ACL (and he could be a few weeks away), and left guard Brady Christensen was lost for the season to a torn biceps after the opener. So they're starting rookie Chandler Zavala at left guard and waiver claim Calvin Throckmorton on the right.
"We're still the same line, you know?" Bozeman said. "We've got to just continue to work; we got to continue to do the things that we need to do to make sure that everything runs smoothly."
Of course, the greater offensive issues are hard to pin on any one group, and even things as simple as plays getting in on time come back to them.
"Just urgency from all of us," Bozeman said. "If that's from getting off the piles to getting out of the huddle to what whatever it may be, we've just got to continue to work on getting off the pile and get off the ground because as soon as that ball hit the ground the play clock's starting to roll."
— The Panthers could ill afford another injury on defense, but veteran cornerback Donte Jackson wasn't able to finish the game with a shoulder problem.
Jackson was initially announced as questionable and stood on the sidelines in uniform in the second half, but said that was only in case of emergency. He said he thought he took a knee to the shoulder while making a tackle early.
"I was working to come back in, went back and did the same thing," Jackson said. "So I just thought it would be best for me to just not try to force it, but I should be fine."
Jackson said he hopes to be ready for next week's trip to Detroit.
Without him and Jaycee Horn (on IR with a hamstring injury and a week away from even being eligible to return), the Panthers are running thin. They finished the game with CJ Henderson, Troy Hill, D'Shawn Jamison, and Dicaprio Bootle at cornerback.
They were also without safety Xavier Woods, who was inactive after a hamstring injury last week.
Grugier-Hill joked that he almost called a fair catch and credited the pressure Gross-Matos put on Cousins for making it simple.
"I mean, Yetur killed the guard and just had a great rush," Grugier-Hill said. "So I mean, that was a big play for him. He's been playing great, I think, the last couple of couple of weeks, and just seeing him progress and just continue to grow is, is awesome."
Gross-Matos had a sack, two tackles for loss, and two quarterback hits Sunday.
He has 2.5 sacks in the last three games after barely playing in the opener.
View all the action from the Panthers' game against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 4.