Panthers’ Newton was ‘good,’ but needs to finish close games

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Cam Newton re-energized the Carolina Panthers and the home crowd in his first start since returning to the franchise that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2011.

But the 32-year-old QB didn’t produce when his team needed him most Sunday.

The Panthers (5-6) had two chances to drive the length of the field and beat Washington in the final 4:13. Both possessions ended in turnovers on downs rather than a heroic finish as Carolina lost 27-21. The costly defeat dropped Carolina from the third NFC wild card entering the weekend to tied for the 10th-best record in the NFC.

“You can’t have the ball twice at the end of the game and not go down and score in the National Football League,” Rhule said on Monday. “We have to convert more third downs. Is that Cam? No, it’s everybody.”

Carolina was 2 of 9 on third downs and 1 of 3 on fourth downs.

Rhule made it pretty clear that Newton will need to be better moving forward.

“I don’t like putting anything on one guy. When you are the quarterback there is a lot of responsibility on you,” Rhule said. “Cam did a lot of good things. He ran the ball and executed the offense and he’s learned a lot quickly. But all of these games are going to come down the last four minutes where we have to score a field goal and a touchdown. I put that on all of us, but at the end of the day as a quarterback we’ve got to get that done. I’m sure he would be the first to say that. We’ve got to win at the end of the game.”

Rhule said after Sunday’s game that Newton lacked a familiarity with running the two-minute offense because he had arrived 10 days earlier. But he stuck with Newton rather than turning to backup P.J. Walker because Newton had the hot hand earlier in the game in leading three touchdown drives.

The Panthers were unable to win close games last season, one of the reasons they jettisoned quarterback Teddy Bridgewater following a 5-11 record.

Newton’s stat line was solid as he completed 21 of 27 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns, ran 10 times for 46 yards, including a 24-yard score he punctuated by celebrating at the team’s midfield logo by doing his Superman impersonation.

But on the final two drives, Newton was 7 of 9 for just 45 yards and managed one first down. It didn’t help that right tackle Taylor Moton put the team behind the chains with a holding penalty on the first drive, negating an 8-yard run by Christian McCaffrey.

The first drive ended when Newton completed a 2-yard pass to McCaffrey on fourth-and-3, the other when the 2015 league MVP took a sack on fourth-and-3 when he had a chance to get the ball to D.J. Moore but hesitated and was engulfed by two linemen.

WHAT’S WORKING

McCaffrey. He had his third straight game with at least 100 yards from scrimmage against Washington, totaling 59 yards rushing and 60 yards receiving to become the fastest player in NFL history to reach 3,000 rushing yards and 3,000 receiving yards. He did so in 57 games. Rhule said he would have liked to use McCaffrey more in the running game, but the defense’s inability to get off the field against Washington’s Taylor Heinicke-led offense limited the amount of offensive plays (49) that Carolina ran.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Run defense. In five wins Carolina’s defense has allowed 56.4 yards rushing per game to the opposition; in its six losses it has allowed 163 yards per game on the ground. The Panthers surrendered 190 yards rushing to Washington on Sunday.

Rhule said the Panthers aren’t playing the run calls correctly and too often linemen are getting out of their gaps, adding that “good teams don’t give up 190 yards rushing.”

STOCK UP

Haason Reddick. The outside linebacker continues to be a force as a pass rusher, getting his second straight double-digit sack season. Reddick has 10 1/2 sacks through 11 games and 18 sacks in his last 15 NFL games dating back to last season with the Arizona Cardinals.

STOCK DOWN

Penalties. The Panthers had seven more penalties for 65 yards on Sunday and continue to lead the league with 81. Safety Juston Burris was twice flagged for unnecessary roughness — including a blatant late hit on a sliding Heinicke — costing his team 30 yards. Rhule said the team’s level of focus needs to be “significantly higher” and said “if we can make that step we will be a good team. But we won’t be a good team until we make that step.”

INJURED

The Panthers lost left tackle Dennis Daley to a glute injury on Sunday. Daley has been filling in for regular starter Cam Erving, who is on injured reserve with a calf injury. So Carolina is now down to rookie third-string left tackle Brady Christensen, a third-round draft pick out of BYU.

KEY NUMBER(S)

0-4 — Carolina’s record vs. the NFC East.

NEXT STEPS

Aside from one ugly loss to the New York Giants, the Panthers have played fairly well on the road this season with a 3-2 record overall. Carolina heads to Miami on Sunday to face the Dolphins.

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