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Carolina Panthers

Postgame Transcripts: Week 17 at New Orleans


Opening comments: "I am obviously disappointed with the result. After a tough week of COVID, guys in and guys out, adjusted practice schedules, lots of distractions, I could not be more pleased with the effort but certainly not the result. I thought we had our opportunities to win the football game in the end. Our inability to protect the quarterback will certainly show up as one of the main stats. We had a chance to take the lead there in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, we missed a field goal. They answered it. It didn't go our way."

On Sam Darnold's yards per attempt: "I think we struggled in protection. Coming in knowing these guys are as good of a rush team as you saw them against (Tom) Brady a couple of weeks ago. Obviously, some guys were out from last week. Our whole game plan was to run the football, try to control it, move the ball down the field, keep the game close, win the game in the 4th quarter. At the end of the day, obviously there were a lot of throws in the end that were incomplete because of the situation that we were in. We weren't able to protect [Sam Darnold]. Even that last possession, we called a hook and lateral just trying to get back and have a chance. They're a really good defense. We knew that coming in. I thought Sam made some aggressive plays at times, but that was kind of us knowing who they are and how good they are on defense."

On takeaways from the game with how Darnold played: "I will have to watch the tape to see. I thought we did a good job on some third down conversions. We were 6-of-14 at one point. We limited our penalties coming here. According to this, we only had one penalty. Sam was 17-of-26. Again, for us to truly see whether its Sam or Cam (Newton) or anybody else, really see what somebody can do, we have to just have a little more consistency up front. There are too many sacks we took. As a result, the sack fumble that led to points kind of changed the way you want to call the game. You're having to be very, very careful on third down. I think our defense was playing really good defense. At the end of the day, they didn't score a touchdown until the last drive. We held them to field goals, there were a ton of short fields. At least from where I stood, I was really proud of our defensive effort today. More importantly, I was proud of our special teams effort from the guys that were covering and getting doubled out there. (Deonte) Harris is as good of a returner as there is. I thought those guys did a good job. We played too much on our side of the field, especially in the 3rd quarter."

On the protection and turning guys loose on a couple of plays: "One was a match protection, so Ian (Thomas) has the first one, Ameer (Abdullah) has the second one. Ian took one, Ameer took the second one. Who's right? Who's wrong? I can't say, but we had one just right past that blitzer. I think they blitzed and crossed. We just didn't execute it, didn't pick it up. The last one, we were just hot, and the ball has to get out of the quarterback's hand. He's working the boundaries. It's two-minute. They brought a lot of pressure today. That is really what people are doing, bringing a lot of pressure. I thought the third down call that lead to the field goal, we knew we had to be inside of the 32 to kick a field goal. They brought two guys off of the edge. Sam did a great job of sight adjusting. He got it out to Robby (Anderson). Robby was half a block away from maybe scoring. Unfortunately, we missed a field goal. That was those two plays from the field level. I haven't obviously seen the tape."

On players who were unavailable and how that inhibited the defense: "This week having some guys go down with COVID and come back. Some guys like JB (Juston Burris) who's had a bad groin, he was available, but we played the other guys and had him up as an emergency. CJ (Henderson) went out before the game. He warmed up. He ran around. His knee is still bothering him, but he was available as an emergency guy. We had those guys in case we needed them. I thought it looked like Rashaan Melvin showed up a couple of times really nicely in the run game. Unfortunately, we gave up the one big pass down the sideline from our own 3-yard line from 3rd-and-13 before the half hat led to points from them. There were some good things in the back end, but probably gave up too many yards passing at times. That's why those guys were out. They're not 100 percent healthy, but we just don't have the numbers right now to not have them up as emergency guys."

On the offensive struggles: "Just not really winning up front in the run game and having to go to the protection game and not really being able to protect, to be quite honest. We knew coming in the defense that they have, the front they have. Early on, we were able to mix it up, keep them off balance a little bit, but in the end, their front won the game for them with us with the chance to go up and win it. We weren't able to get them. Kind of the same sort of story we've had at times when we haven't played well offensively, it's kind of just that up front, not being able to win in the run game, in the pass game at the level you need to win a game like this."

On the added pressure to the Carolina defense: "That's kind of what the defense wants though. The defensive coaches and players are saying, 'Run the ball. Run the clock. Hunt the ball down. Let's not turn the ball over.' It is what it is. We wish we could score 40 points against these guys, but not many people do. The defense was great today. Our guys kept saying we were going to have to get a turnover. We were going to have to take the ball away. We came into the game knowing to beat these guys we were going to have to take the ball away. It's just trying to play complementary football. Obviously, playing defense when you have a big day offensively, you can really let it rip. We did a great job for a defense that struggled in the red zone earlier this year. We held them to field goals until that very last one. I thought today was a big step defensively for us. It makes it hard at the same time if you're in that situation to try to play to the defense and just not do something that gives them a short field like we did on the 1."

On the offensive line struggles: "I think when you have 11 different offensive line combinations, when you have guys being elevated from the practice squad, when you have guys changing positions, all of those things, you're not going to have the unity you want. You're not going to have the cohesiveness you want. We talked about it. You guys have asked about it since the very beginning. We've had runs where we have been able to protect the quarterback and be consistent, but I do not care who you are playing (at) quarterback, if you do not have a run game or a pretty nice protection game, it is going to be difficult. I thought when Sam (Darnold) had protection, he was able to complete balls and made some nice throws. Again, this is a really good defense we faced. We knew they were going to put us under duress."

On what changed in the game plan after Sam Darnold started 9-for-9: "We had some runs early. It says here we finished with 28 yards rushing. In the first half, I don't know how many yards we had. We were able to keep them off-balance. We converted some third downs on a bubble, on a slant. As the run game started to bog down a little bit, as they started to take away the run game, it forces you into more of a drop back mode. We try hard not to do that. We had the one fumble. We tried to protect the defense. Unfortunately, we had a chance to kick a field goal and take the lead, missed it, and they were able to go down and score and change the game. It's all complimentary. It's the running game, keeping them off-balance. When you're struggling with running it, they can really wind up and come after you."


What did he see as the game went on that prevented the offense from performing as it did with the first two touchdown drives? "I think where we stalled was our second down offense wasn't great. Whether we ran or threw it, when we were in second and longs, I feel like we could not get into third and manageables. I think that was kind of the biggest thing, we had those three and outs, so that's what it felt like to me on the field. Obviously, as you guys know, I need to watch what is on the tape. I felt like we just stalled on second and got into too many third and long situations."

As the Saints defense adjusted, what types of offensive adjustments were made by your team? "They definitely made adjustments. I think we started to get into our, kind of our drop back game a little bit on second down because I felt like we were having good success on those first couple drives with running the football and having some RPOs with that. I felt like we adjusted, and we tried to adjust and get into the drop back game on second downs. Still just couldn't find completions there but, again, I need to watch the tape to confirm all this.

Was there a particular thing that was working for the offense right before the missed field goal in the fourth quarter? "I think we were moving the ball. We were staying in second and manageables, we were moving the ball on first down, getting into advantageous situations. When you can get into second and medium, and short situations, it takes a lot of what the defense can do and puts more of the pressure on the defense when you start to get into those second and manageable downs. I felt like we were starting to get into those a little bit more, and obviously we converted some third downs on that drive. Again, that's when we'd love to end the drive with a score there, getting into the end zone."

Offensive protection was an issue today, did you ever feel comfortable in the pocket and in the position to succeed? "For the most part, in those first couple drives, I was getting the ball out and they couldn't really get a pass rush going. Again, we were staying in manageable down distances, I think that's a huge part of it. It's tough when the defensive line, especially as good as New Orleans is, they can start to run pick games on third and long and start to get after us that way. It definitely makes it tougher when you're not in those favorable down distances."

On the last drive, you got to midfield, did you see C.J. Gardner-Johnson or what happened? "It's something that we kind of talked about. We knew that they had nickel pressure when they're middle backer was mugged up. That's something that we had talked about, so I've got to see him (CJ Gardner-Johnson) on that one."

How are you feeling after taking several hits today, especially to your shoulder? "I feel fine."

How accurate from Coach Rhule that it's difficult to see what you or Cam Newton can do on the field until there is more consistency up front? "I think the bottom line is that everyone is not playing good enough. We're just not playing good enough to win games, simple as it is. We just have to continue to make adjustments and get ready to go down to Tampa and go get a win."

When you're under duress, how much has that impacted you career? "When you're under duress as a quarterback, I think the biggest thing that I said early on is staying in those second and medium, and getting into those third and shorts, where you can start to kind of attack the defense. When you start to get into third and longs, like I said, they can pin their ears back. I think it's about consistently moving the football and taking what they give us, and when you start to get short completions, it starts to open things up down the field. I think that's something we need to continue to look at."

Considering you've been under duress most of the game and without some of the weapons on your team, do you think you've had a fair evaluation when they look at you as a starting QB? "That's not even something that's on my mind right now. At the end of the day, like I said, I'm not playing good enough to win football games. That's just it. I think after the season we can start to look at how I've been playing throughout the season, but that's pretty much all I have to say on that one."


Coach Rhule has said that this team has a thin margin for error, how tough is it to walk that line all year? "It's tough because we keep talking about the same thing each and every day, each and every week. Do your job, man. How much more do we have to keep saying that for people to actually click in? It's okay to have a missed assignment once, but not repeatedly. In other words, that's just being a repeat offender. We get paid to do this game, we get paid to go out here and play and give the fans what they want, and we can't keep having these mistakes. Defensive side, that kind of just falls on me as a captain and making sure I hold everybody accountable, even myself."

What do you think needs to happen for the team to get what you're saying? "We just need to grow up and do our jobs. We get paid to come out here and play football, you get paid to do your job. This is a job. Each and every day is an interview. Especially, everybody knows in this business you get fired just like that. This is how we feed our families, so you've got to take this serious. You've got to go out there and do your job. Even if you don't make the play, if someone else makes the play, that's you doing your job. That's one thing we just have to focus on, and we've got one more game. We're gonna go in here and watch this game. I feel the defense, we played great today. We had some mishaps, couple big runs, but I feel like we played great today."

Do you think this change in the team and defense is a product of being disciplined? "I have no idea. It could be a little bit of both, it could be guys just forgetting what you've got to do."

When talking about guys not doing their jobs, is that a specific reference? "I'm just talking about being in your gap. If you have a gap to be in, be in your gap. If you have a somebody to cover, cover your guy. A lot of people do it, even I make mistakes. I'm not the perfect person out there. But the majority of us just need to do our jobs."

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