CHARLOTTE -- It was the same story all night. The Panthers offense was set up for success, only for things to fall apart once it neared scoring position.
Whether it was an assist from the Panthers defense, a momentum swing on special teams or an explosive play by the offense itself, they just couldn't find a way to punch it in in Thursday night's 20-14 loss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"Explosiveness was not our problem," tight end Greg Olsen said. "You've got to sustain drives in this league. One 35, 40-yard catch to get you down there, OK. The next part was the problem."
First it was a 44-yard deep ball from quarterback Cam Newton to wide receiver Curtis Samuel down to the Bucs 31 yard line on the first play of Carolina's second series. But the drive stalled and ended in a field goal to tie the game 3-3.
Then in the second quarter punt returner Ray-Ray McCloud broke off a 39-yard return to set the offense up with a short field, with the drive starting on the Tampa Bay 42 yard line. Again, no dice. Another field goal.
Big play after big play, including passes to Olsen for 33 and 41 yards, and even a safety from the Panthers defense which led to another possession with a short field to work with. But still no touchdowns.
All told, Carolina crossed into Tampa Bay territory seven times without ever reaching the end zone in the 20-14 defeat.
"We put drive together, drive together, drive together, field goal, field goal," Olsen said. "It was just ... it was brutal. I don't have the answers."
Of Carolina's 13 possessions, four ended in field goals, five in punts, three in turnovers on downs, and one on a lost fumble. After going 3-for-3 in the red zone last week against the Rams, the Panthers offense was 0-for-2 against the Bucs. Numbers like that just don't cut it in the NFL.
"To start the drive off with a big play, we've just got to finish that off," Samuel said. "We can't let them off the hook by putting a field goal. Points is points, but we want to score touchdowns."
Part of the reason for the stalled drives was the Panthers lack of a rushing attack. After posting 127 yards on the ground as a team last week, the offense could only muster 39 yards rushing this week, the lowest total since Week 5 against the Lions in 2017 (28). On top of that, Newton was sacked three times and hit another three. Talk about drive-killers.
"It's extremely frustrating knowing you're getting opportunities and you just can't put the ball in the end zone," said Newton, who was under constant duress as the Bucs sent wave after wave of pressure. "We just have to find ways to put points on the board. That's what we signed up for. That's 'Offensive 101.'"
Despite the offensive woes, the Panthers still found themselves within arm's reach of victory during the game's final two minutes, only to be turned down a yard shy.
Denied at every turn.
"We didn't uphold our end and we're past due," Newton said. "All fingers are just pointing back to me specifically on offense."
There's no doubt the pieces are there. But the Panthers just haven't been able to put it all together.
"We've got a dynamic offense, we can definitely do that," Samuel said. "We know we can, but we've just to execute, and that starts with all of us."
Take a look at in-game photos from Thursday Night Football as the Panthers take on the Buccaneers.