CHARLOTTE — Panthers head coach Matt Rhule had a few central messages Monday, the day after a gut-punch of a loss to the Eagles.
Clearly, the pass protection was a problem, as was the blocked punt, and the defense surrendering a fourth-quarter lead.
"This is one of those pretty disappointing days, globally," Rhule said.
But mostly, he wants to make sure his team takes the appropriate lessons from the game, and applies them to this week's game against the Vikings and the future. And he wants them to know that fixing it will take each player on the roster and coach on the staff "locked in on one play at a time," and doing their jobs better.
"It's not some cool thing, but it's the only way I know," Rhule said. "It's how you build buildings, one brick at a time. We win games one play at a time. You can't take shortcuts; you can't have lapses in focus. . . .
"I don't want to lose ever, but if the pain of this loss causes us to understand more of what it takes for us to win, for me that's the only good that comes from bad. It starts with watching the tape today, and we'll be in these situations moving forward, if everyone settles down, and just says, 'hey, I'm going to do my job and trust my teammates,' we'll win those games in the fourth quarter."
They did not Sunday, for a number of reasons. And while there has been plenty of discussion about the issues on offense and special teams, Rhule was also hammering a message of accountability, and the collective nature of a loss like that one.
"I know a lot of the questions will be about the offense, but if you have the lead in the fourth quarter with the players we have on defense, we should never lose," he said. "We should never lose."
That said, the central issue Sunday continued to be the protection of quarterback Sam Darnold, who threw three interceptions while under steady pressure. Rhule said his quarterback "was out of whack early," partially as a result of the pressure, but made it clear that the offensive line play was not up to the standard they needed.
"The guys we have are professional football players, and we've got to play way, way better," Rhule said. "That was not good enough up front. So we've got to coach it better, play better, help them in different ways. . . . We have to play way better up front."
Rhule said that even after Darnold struggled Sunday, he still believed that he's capable of getting the job done.
"Sam is excellent when he plays within the system," Rhule said. "Takes the first read, not the second. We've got to protect him better, and Sam needs to just take what's given to him. I think if he does that, we'll get back on track quickly."
— Rhule said that he'd have a better idea when the team returns to the practice field, but that early signs were good regarding Christian McCaffrey's availability for this week's game against the Vikings.
He missed the last two games because of his Sept. 23 hamstring strain, and practiced on a limited basis last week.
"We'll know better Wednesday, but I'm hopeful he'll play this week," Rhule said.
In his absence, Chuba Hubbard had 24 carries for 101 yards, and another 33 receiving yards against the Eagles. Rhule mentioned a pair of runs that were negated by holding penalties (another 16 yards lost), and was clearly encouraged by the rookie.
"Chuba is playing well, and I think he'll be a tremendous complement whenever Christian is back with us," Rhule said.
— Rhule downplayed sideline shots captured by the FOX network crew that showed wide receiver Robby Anderson visibly frustrated during the late stages of the game. He said there was some sideline discussion that Anderson was asking for some different routes, which he believed might have helped.
"Players put a lot into it; there's going to be emotion at times," Rhule said. "We're a tough staff. We coach hard. Players are tough. I have no issue with a guy doing that as long as it stays within a certain realm. If it becomes personal, coach-player or player-coach, that's not who we are.
"If everyone would have played well, and coached well, we'd have won the game. We'll try to keep it football."
— The frustration of the day was palpable, but players were trying to shift the focus forward.
Center Matt Paradis was asked how the team could avoid a long losing streak (such as the five-gamer that followed three straight wins in 2020), and he said all the focus in the building was on this week's effort to go 1-0 against the Vikings.
Defensive end Morgan Fox admitted the mood wasn't a happy one.
"People are down, people are upset," Fox said. "We went out there, and we had a lead and we needed to make plays and win the game and we didn't do it. But we also are a team that's resilient, and we're going to be able to go back and look at this and learn the lessons from this loss and move forward and help ourselves improve. Guys are definitely upset, we're competitors."
— In addition to McCaffrey, Rhule said that left tackle Cameron Erving was scheduled to return Wednesday. He missed Sunday's game and was out of practice all last week because of a neck injury.
The team also released running back Rodney Smith from the practice squad. He had been promoted the last two weeks to help fill in for McCaffrey.
View the best photos from the field from pre-game, in-game and post-game from the Panthers-Eagles game at Bank of America Stadium.