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The Day After: Not playing to the Panthers' "DNA"


CHARLOTTE – Steve Wilks said he didn't see the Panthers playing to their "DNA" after Sunday's 30-24 loss at Tampa Bay.

Carolina's interim coach said Monday that his message wasn't directed to one position, a set of plays, or a specific moment; it was an all-around observation. Heading into their final game of the season at New Orleans, Wilks wants to see improvement everywhere and have the Panthers playing smarter.

"I was speaking across the board," Wilks said. "Because one of the things that I preach – one of the things we talk about all the time is DNA. And that, number one, is physicality and effort. I think we showed that yesterday in how we played. Number two is smart. We didn't play smart at all in so many facets."

Wilks explained that in Monday's team meetings, they discussed the three deep touchdown passes Tom Brady completed to Mike Evans, not falling on the ball after Sam Darnold's first fumble, false start penalties, route running, and communication across the defense. 

"It's hard to win in the National Football League," Wilks said. "I told the guys this morning we not only competed against Tampa yesterday; we competed against ourselves. We competed against two teams, and you can't win football games like that."

Wilks said Darnold would remain the starting quarterback against the Saints after putting up 341 yards on 23-of-37 passing with three touchdowns, an interception, and two lost fumbles. Darnold committed three turnovers after going his first four starts without one. 

Wilks also took responsibility for Evans' third touchdown in the fourth quarter, and said the Panthers were caught up in a blitz. 

"We all had our hand in this, as far as giving up big plays," Wilks said. "Offensively, we can't turn the ball over; we've got to protect the football. I thought Sam did some great things yesterday; he made some phenomenal throws, thought he managed the game well minus those turnovers."

– Wilks acknowledged that linebacker Anthony Nelson beat rookie left tackle Ikem Ekwonu when Darnold was strip-sacked deep in Carolina territory on Sunday. But he also said Ekwonu played a better game overall than that one play would suggest.

"Ickey got beat off the edge," Wilks said. "And let me say this, as I told him in the team meeting, he had an outstanding game. He really did. But again, that's one play we can't have in a critical situation, where I felt like we still had time to go down and try to make something happen.

"Could Sam have seen that? It's coming from his blind side. You would want him to step up and be able to go through his progression. But I really can't tell you right now (if) he saw it or not."

– Wilks said he didn't question cornerback CJ Henderson's effort when he trailed Evans on a 57-yard touchdown reception in Tampa Bay. After the game, safety Xavier Woods said he took the blame for that play.

"I don't think (Henderson) quit on that play," Wilks said. "Could he have executed better? Yes." 

Henderson acknowledged Evans was his matchup at Tampa Bay and that he needed to do a better job when he was up against him. Evans put up 207 yards on 10 receptions with three touchdowns. 

"I don't think I gave up on any of the plays," Henderson said. "But we didn't get the job done. We didn't play good enough on the back end, starting with me.

"We just weren't on the same page on the back end," he continued. "We've got to communicate better. It starts with me being better with that."

– Top cornerback Jaycee Horn was officially placed on injured reserve with the wrist injury he sustained against the Lions, ending his season after undergoing surgery last week.

The Panthers added veteran cornerback Josh Norman to the practice squad last week and elevated him for the Bucs game, but he played 10 snaps in his first action of the season.

Before Norman was signed a week ago today, he had been working in his coffee shop in Atlanta. Norman played in 2021 with the 49ers, but Wilks said he didn't want to play Norman more than the snaps he saw at Tampa Bay. 

"That was my opinion," Wilks said after he was asked if Norman was ready to play more than he did. "When you get a guy that's been sitting on the couch, he's been running his coffee shop, doing the things he's been doing. I've felt very pleased with him being in the building, coming back, trying to contribute and help, but not to the extent where he was going to play a lot yesterday. So I didn't want to put him in that situation."

View the best in-game photos from Carolina's Week 17 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on New Years Day.

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