Strickly Panthers: Red zone leaves Panthers blue

CHARLOTTE – The Panthers got away with some shortcomings in the red zone in their last game, but they know J.J. Jansen needs to be kicking extra points rather than field goals when Carolina visits the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night.

"When we get down there, for whatever reason, we just can't get touchdowns," Panthers quarterback Jimmy Clausen said. "This past game we kicked too many field goals. This week, we've got to score touchdowns."

Carolina's red zone showing last Sunday against Arizona was a microcosm of the season – except this time the Panthers won despite it. Carolina moved the ball inside the Cardinals' 20-yard line four times but scored just one touchdown and kicked short field goals the other three times.

It was good enough for a 19-12 victory, but it likely wouldn't be enough against the Steelers. They're tied for the NFL lead with just 15.7 points allowed per game, in part because they allow opponents who reach the red zone to score touchdowns just 40.5 percent of the time – fourth-best in the league.

The Cardinals actually are the stingiest team when it comes to percentage of touchdowns allowed in the red zone, but Carolina has struggled against all comers. The Panthers have scored touchdowns on just 30 percent of their red zone trips – the worst in the NFL.

"It's just been missed opportunities," center Ryan Kalil said. "There's nothing wrong with the play calling – just for whatever reason it hasn't been happening for us.

"It's extremely frustrating, especially since that's the area that's the most important. We just haven't been able to put our finger on it."

Kasay has had another standout season, hitting 23 of 27 field goals, but 13 of his successful kicks have come from outside the red zone. Inside the red zone, the Panthers have failed to score any points 36.7 percent of the time, also the worst in the NFL.

"There have been mistakes that we've made as an offense when we get down there," tight end Dante Rosario said. "When you get inside the 15 and have a holding penalty, those kill drives. Now you're looking at first and 20, backed up.

"I just don't think we've taken advantage of our opportunities. We've had a lot of instances where we've hurt ourselves rather than the other team doing something we weren't prepared for."


TV TIME: The Panthers-Steelers game will kick off at 8:20 p.m. on the NFL Network, but fans in the Charlotte area don't have to receive the NFL Network to watch the action.

Local fans will be able to see the game on WSOC-TV in the 22-county Charlotte television market. Outside of the Charlotte market, only people who have the NFL Network from satellite companies Dish Network or Direct TV or from Comcast or a few other cable systems in North and South Carolina will be able to view the broadcast.


SPECIAL BOND: The holidays are about family, and Panthers wide receiver Cam Newton views team owner Jerry Richardson like family.

"I look at him as my grandfather," Smith said. "My grandfather passed away a couple of years ago, so I really feel like he was placed in my life for that.

"The relationship I have with Mr. Richardson is very unique to me and him – it doesn't matter whether I'm in uniform or not."

Smith said that he and Richardson clicked from their first meeting a decade ago.

"He's had success – like me – through failure, and he's learned from it," Smith said. "I never want to meet anybody who has a hundred percent success rate. You want to meet people who have slipped and fell, who have bruised their knee and scratched their elbow.

"Those are wise people, people who you learn from."

Smith, who has two years remaining on his contract with the Panthers, clapped for the fans that clapped for the Panthers as he left the field following last Sunday's home finale.

"They've kind of watched a pretty low standard of football this year in that stadium according to a lot of people in this facility – from the owner all the way down to the players," Smith said. "They've been there, so they deserve to be applauded."

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