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Turnovers, red zone issues doom Panthers

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CHARLOTTE - It had been awhile since Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross had seen Bank of America Stadium come alive like it did in the early stages of Sunday's showdown with the reigning Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.

The buzz slowly faded, however, right along with the Panthers' shot at a head-turning victory.

"It's frustrating that we couldn't give them something to cheer about at the end," Gross said after a 13-0 lead dissipated in a 30-23 loss. "The fans are dying for success. They were happy that we were in the game last week (a 28-21 loss at Arizona), and they'll probably be fairly happy about this - and that's a sad thing.

"We've got to win. We've got to make it loud every game."

The Panthers and their fans made plenty of noise early, when Carolina scored on its first three possessions while limiting Green Bay to three offensive snaps.

But Carolina (0-2) had to settle for field goals on two of the drives, even after advancing inside the 5-yard line on both. That opened the door for the Packers (2-0) to score 23 unanswered points with a big helping hand from four Panthers turnovers.

The Panthers still had a chance, however, only to have the red zone again leave them seeing red. A 77-yard drive that stalled at the 3 with 10 minutes left resulted in a field goal to make it 23-16, then rookie quarterback Cam Newton couldn't close the deal with his legs on a fourth-down play at the 6 with 3:09 left in the game.

"It shouldn't have even been fourth down. I think I could have scored on a lot of them," Newton said of the potential game-tying drive but also in reference to stalled drives earlier in the game. "It hurts to leave the field with three points. When you have a team down, you have to keep them down."

For the second consecutive game, record-setting stats for Newton weren't enough to produce his first victory. He broke the franchise record for most passing yards in a game with 432 and became just the sixth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400-plus yards in back-to-back games, but he also threw a trio of interceptions.

"He's giving us an opportunity to win," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "Unfortunately, we haven't taken advantage of that."

Before the turnover troubles, the Panthers stunned the Packers, taking the opening kickoff and marching 85 yards with little resistance. Newton hooked up with tight end Jeremy Shockey for 23 and 18 yards, then he then hit wide receiver Steve Smith (six catches, 156 yards) twice for 27 total yards and running back Jonathan Stewart (eight catches, 100 yards) for 19 yards.

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On second-and-goal, Newton lofted one in the back of the end zone for wide receiver Brandon LaFell for a 3-yard score, capping a 10-play drive that consumed 5:40. On the drive, Newton was a remarkable 6-for-7 for 90 yards.

On the ensuing kickoff, Packers rookie Randall Cobb – who returned a kick 108 yards last week - fumbled when he ran into a teammate, and Panthers safety Sean Considine scrambled to cover it. The Panthers settled for a field goal though, a 20-yarder by Olindo Mare when they came a yard short of a first down at the 2.

Still, they led 10-0 before the Packers enjoyed so much as an offensive snap.

"We came out fast," Panthers center Ryan Kalil said. "We just couldn't finish."

When the Packers offense did finally get the ball, the Panthers didn't allow them a first down. Carolina got the ball right back and got down to the 3 when Newton hit tight end Greg Olsen for 34 yards, but a holding penalty backed it up and the drive ended with a 38-yard field goal for a 13-0 edge.

Settling for three points against a team like the Packers isn't a good thing, as Green Bay proved when it eventually took the lead kicking extra points rather than field goals.

The Packers finally got things going on the ensuing drive, converting a trio of third downs on an 80-march capped by fullback John Kuhn's 1-yard run that made it 13-7 with 9:58 left in the half. On the opening drive of the second half, quarterback Aaron Rodgers spotted wide receiver Greg Jennings behind the defense for a 49-yard score and a 14-13 lead.

"Their defense kept them in position until their offense was able to make a few plays," Rivera said. "We got field goals when we could have gotten touchdowns. We could have been up 21-7 (at halftime)."

Down for the first time, the Panthers suddenly found themselves scrambling to hold Green Bay to field goals when they turned the ball over on their first three possessions of the third quarter. Newton was picked off by cornerback Charles Woodson – Woodson's second interception of the day – then Smith lost a fumble on a 25-yard reception before safety Morgan Burnett picked Newton.

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Green Bay got a field goal after each turnover to extend its lead to 23-13.

"The fumble was a momentum shifter, a mood killer," Smith said. "Playing a team like that, you can't give them any advantages. That was a gift from me."

In the end, the turnovers and red zone problems proved too much to overcome, but with the way the offense has played between miscues and with the way the defense is playing at times, the Panthers feel like an 0-2 start isn't too much to overcome.

"It's a long season," right guard Geoff Hangartner said. "This is not where we want to be at all, but we're not out of anything. We can still accomplish all our goals, so we just have to come back and work hard."

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