CHARLOTTE – By all accounts, rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen's nerves didn't get to him during his first NFL start Sunday.
That didn't stop the Cincinnati Bengals from getting to him.
The Bengals sacked Clausen just once, but they got close often to affect him and stayed close enough to Carolina's receivers to limit his outlets in the Panthers' 20-7 loss.
"He took some shots, but he had poise in the huddle and dealt with all the adversity," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "I think he's going to be a good quarterback. I'm sure he's not happy with everything he did, but he's got talent."
Clausen impressed his teammates with his presence in the huddle and in the pocket, but Clausen came away sounding unimpressed with his own play.
Clausen completed 16 of 33 passes for 188 yards. Clausen was intercepted trying to hit wide receiver Steve Smith in the red zone early in the game, and he had trouble with two snaps, one of which resulted in a turnover in field-goal range.
"It was a tough loss in my first start," Clausen said. "Take care of the football, get the snap, don't force the ball.
"We have to go back and watch the tape, see the things that we did right and correct the things we did wrong."
When head coach John Fox announced last Monday that he would start Clausen in favor of Matt Moore against the Bengals, he said the decision wasn't an indictment on Moore, that the offense's early struggles went beyond the quarterback position.
Sunday's game proved Fox right – not that he necessarily wanted to be right as he hoped Clausen would provide a spark.
"When we made the change a week ago, I did mention that I didn't think it was one guy. I'm not sure I feel any differently today," Fox said. "The guy he replaced had  NFL starts, not  years, so we're pretty young at that position. It's evident that we have work to do and we'll continue to work, not to say that Jimmy was bad today by any stretch."
While Clausen showed his youth with the center exchange issues, he didn't show it in the huddle. Rookie wide receiver Brandon LaFell, who caught a 44-yarder from Clausen late in the game, seemed excited about the future prospects mere minutes after the demoralizing defeat.
"I think things went very well with Jimmy today, other than the fumbled snaps," LaFell said. "He was in control of the huddle all the time. Jimmy wasn't nervous at all.
"I like for him to not wear a visor so I can see his eyes. You could look at him and tell that he was calm, tell that he was ready to play."
The next step for Clausen? Get ready to play better.
"We have playmakers. We have a good offensive line, good backs, good receivers, good tight ends," Clausen said. "We just have to keep gelling together and keep working on the practice field.
"Obviously we are going to dwell on this for tonight. It was a tough loss. Once we come in tomorrow and watch the tape, we have to move on."