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Carolina Panthers

Notebook: Panthers had a few issues on offensive line

Offensive Line

CHARLOTTE — The sacks were the visible thing. They weren't the only thing for the Panthers Sunday.

Panthers rookie left tackle Ikem Ekwonu knew he'd have his hands full with Browns defensive end Myles Garrett in his first game, and Garrett had a pair of sacks in the third quarter (on back-to-back plays).

But while Garrett can change a game at any moment, those plays against Ekwonu were only the most visible of the issues the Panthers had up front in Sunday's 26-24 loss to the Browns.

"I watched a lot of film on him," Ekwonu said of Garrett. "I wouldn't say anything surprising. I try to focus on myself. I'll give guys credit on the field, but I'm not going to go as far as to say if someone surprised me on the field."

Those sacks were half of the four the Browns had as a team on the day. Quarterback Baker Mayfield also had five passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. There were also a number of miscues on snaps between Mayfield and center Pat Elflein, one of which running back Christian McCaffrey scooped and took off with for a 28-yard gain. Mayfield was credited with four fumbles (none lost), including the strip-sack by Garrett, which Mayfield recovered. Elflein was also credited with one fumble.

The Panthers put a lot of emphasis on upgrading the line, after using 14 different starting lineups in 17 games last year. In addition to drafting Ekwonu in the first round, they also signed guard Austin Corbett and center Bradley Bozeman in free agency.

"I think (we've) got a long ways to go, but I think we can be a great running team," left guard Brady Christensen said. "(We've) just got to keep at it and really play more physical up front, especially in the interior."

— McCaffrey was glad to be back in the end zone, especially with how the last two seasons went.

But Sunday's last-minute loss dampened his mood.

"Scoring touchdowns is always great. It's a lot of fun," McCaffrey said. "I just want to win."

McCaffrey finished with 10 carries for 33 yards and a touchdown, along with four catches for 21 yards. He had just five touches in the first half, as the Panthers have tried to diversify the offense around him.

Four other players carried the ball (including wide receiver DJ Moore), and McCaffrey was one of six players to catch a pass.

While 14 total touches were well under his usual workload, head coach Matt Rhule said it wasn't a concerted effort to pace his star running back (who had 30 and 29 touches in the first two games last year).

"We were not managing him," Rhule said. "We were in second-and-12, second-and-15. We were just severely inefficient in the first half."

McCaffrey wasn't thinking about the workload, only the result.

"I don't think anything about it. I'm just on to the next play all the time," McCaffrey said. "Like I said, I have no idea. I know that it's hard to get anybody touches when you're going three-and-out and staying behind the chains with penalties and all that stuff. I haven't watched the tape yet. All I know is I don't really care about any of that. I just care about winning and doing my job on every play, whether I get the ball or I don't."

— New kicker Eddy Piñeiro had a mixed bag of a day.

He kicked what could have been a game-winning field goal with 1:13 left in the game, hitting a 34-yarder.

"It definitely helps the confidence, but I'm just bummed out right now," Piñeiro said. "But it does help the confidence, and we've got to keep working."

He also kicked off out of bounds in the second quarter, giving the Browns the ball at the 40-yard line. They'd go on to tack on a field goal just before the half.

"I've got to work on my kickoffs; I didn't kick off good today," he said. "Hit one out of bounds; I've got to work on that.

"I just tried to hit it too hard. Came across it. Just have to be smooth. I was not smooth on that one."

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