CHARLOTTE — From outside the locker room, it's possible to imagine frustration bubbling up between Carolina's offense and defense.
But inside it, the leaders across the defense say that isn't the case.
Several veterans said they didn't put the blame on the other side of the ball, after a 1-3 start to the season, that has seen the offense struggle to piece together productive drives, leaving the defense on the field for long stretches.
"That's the last thing we want to do," linebacker Frankie Luvu said when asked about a potential division. "We're all in this together. We win together; we lose together."
Issues with time of possession have popped up throughout the season, but that gap was the most evident it has been this season in Sunday's 26-16 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
The Cardinals held the ball for 38:35 compared to Carolina's 21:25. The Panthers saw similar problems pop up in Week 1 against the Browns, when they were on offense for 21:34, just nine more seconds than in Week 4.
Most stark was the discrepancy in second-half possession when Arizona had a 21:39 to 8:21 edge over Carolina. The Cardinals outscored the Panthers 23-6 in the second half after going into halftime down 10-3.
The Panthers' lone touchdown in the first half was off a Luvu interception returned for a 33-yard touchdown, as he continued to play the best football of his career. Luvu was Carolina's leading tackler against the Cardinals, combining for career-high 11 total stops, adding a tackle for loss and a pass deflection.
"I thought our defense was kind of fighting and hanging in there, keeping it a close game and just kind of waiting for the offense," head coach Matt Rhule said. "In the end, I think the time of possession in the second half was brutal against our defense. The defense has to get off the field, don't get me wrong, but they just needed some spells."
Cornerback Donte Jackson said he wasn't frustrated by the gap in time of possession. Instead, he challenged the defense to play all four quarters, regardless of how long they were on the field.
"My job is to come here on Sundays, play cornerback, and play defense," Jackson said. "Regardless of how many snaps, regardless of whatever. I can't complain about being on the field playing corner for however many plays when that's my job.
"I literally showed up to the stadium to do that. We can't make it about anything else but us just getting better on defense and doing what we've got to do."
Defensive end Brian Burns, who came down with the Panthers' only sack of Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray, echoed that sentiment.
"It's just hard to stop somebody for so long, but that's our goal," Burns said. "We have to finish strong, no matter how fast we start early. That was our goal, going into the fourth, to get a fourth-quarter shutout, and we didn't get it."
Burns' assessment of the Panthers' fourth-quarter struggles is a valid one. The Panthers allowed Arizona 16 of its 26 points in the fourth quarter and allowed New Orleans all 14 of its points in the fourth last week.
Derrick Brown had a similar message.
"If they score more points than us, we didn't do a good enough job," Brown said. "That's how every single man in that room looks at it. That's just our mindset about it. We don't think we played well, and we lost. (We) gave up points in the fourth quarter. So that's on us."
But the reality is Carolina's offense hasn't exactly helped its defense out, especially in the last 15 minutes.
The Panthers' offense set up two consecutive short touchdown drives for Arizona in the fourth after Baker Mayfield threw an interception, then turned the ball over on downs on consecutive series. Arizona's average drive started at the Carolina 28-yard line in the fourth quarter.
When asked about how to keep the locker room from splintering between the offense and defense, Rhule expressed little concern.
"I don't ever worry about that," Rhule said. "We have elite men and leaders in that room on defense – when you have Shaq (Thompson), Frankie, Donte, Brian, and those guys.
"At the end of the day, defensively, I know they expect to pitch a shutout in the fourth quarter. Even if the ball's on the 4, to hold them to a field goal. I'm sure they're disappointed, but they're leaders, and they're men that believe in what we're doing."
And those leaders on the defense would agree.
"It's Week 4, so if you're hanging your head, you're down and out this early, you don't stand a chance in December or January," Jackson said. "That's all. We've just got to keep working, keep coming to work, ready to play, ready to get better. … I know the guys on this team, know the guys in this building. That's all we're going to do. That's the message."
View best in-game photos from Carolina's game against Arizona.