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Carolina Panthers

Strickly Panthers: Seeking growth


CHICAGO - Head coach Ron Rivera has consistently stated that the Panthers will grow as a team as rookie quarterback Cam Newton grows.

Sunday, following a tough 34-29 loss to the Bears, Rivera seemed to be pained by the lack of growth in other areas as Newton continues to blossom.

"When the rest of us catch up with Cam – because some of us aren't growing at the same pace – I think we'll be a good football team," Rivera said. "It's a learning process."

Rivera didn't point a finger at any particular players, coaches or position groups, but there were a few potential candidates based on Sunday's showing.

The defense allowed 205 rushing yards to Matt Forte – who had totaled 119 rushing yards in the Bears' first three games. Special teams gave up a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown to Devin Hester and a 73-yard kickoff return to Hester that set up another touchdown.

And once again, the offense too often failed to close out promising scoring drives.

"You don't want to be the group that has 10 million yards but can't win the game," said wide receiver Steve Smith, who has 530 receiving yards through four games - 24 short of his total in 2010. "Cam is doing a great job. He's playing his tail off.


"We've got a coach here that expects greatness, that expects us to play well. He expects that out of us, and that's what we're going to do. That's our leader, the guy that's charging down the hill, and we're going to follow him."

Newton, even after throwing for 374 yards and accounting for three touchdowns, said he felt like he let his team down. He doesn't accept losing under any circumstances, meaning that even one mistake in a loss – like his interception returned for a touchdown – is one mistake too many.

"For a person to tell me, 'You can't win them all,' that's a loser's mentality," Newton said. "I want to win every single game I play, and it hurts when we lose.

"But when you know the guys on your team are giving it all they've got, to look in the eyes of those guys and know that they're battling, it works wonders for our team and its chemistry."

Every group had its ups and downs Sunday.

The offense set a franchise record with 543 yards of total offense but had to settle for field goal attempts on four consecutive drives in one stretch – making just two.

Special teams gave up the two big returns to Hester and allowed a blocked field goal, but Olindo Mare also made three field goals and chased Hester down to prevent one of his returns from going the distance.

The defense held Forte to just 29 yards rushing from the 13-minute mark of the second quarter through the same point in the fourth quarter, but he galloped for a total of 176 rushing yards over the first 17 minutes and the last 11 minutes.

"It's one thing to have it under control; we have to keep it there," safety Charles Godfrey asid. "The first quarter we gave up a lot of runs, but the second quarter we came back and did pretty well. Once we do that, we have to maintain that through the whole game. That's what builds good defenses."

The Panthers are working feverishly to build a good defense. And offense. And special teams.
And so far, a rookie quarterback is the surprise leader in the Panthers' pursuit of building a complete team.

"He's the No. 1 pick for a reason," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "He's been outstanding so far this year, on and off the field.

"I think Coach is right. If we had 11 guys that played as well as Cam has, that would be great."

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