Cam Newton, Panthers under duress with 0-2 start after loss to Bucs

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has more weapons around him than at any point in his career. The 2015 NFL MVP and the offense won’t be limited because of Newton’s offseason shoulder surgery and a preseason ankle injury. The offense will be explosive.

These were things written and said coming out of training camp.

None have come to fruition, and because of that the Panthers’ season is on the brink of disaster after a 20-14 prime-time loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for an 0-2 start.

The Bucs came out with a defensive formula other teams are sure to follow. Pressure Newton with blitzes, don’t worry about him as a threat to run out of the zone-read and gang up on running back Christian McCaffrey.

It worked beautifully. Newton was 0-for-10 under duress with three sacks, and at one point in the fourth quarter the offense had a total of 30 yards on 19 plays inside Buccaneers territory, with 13 of those plays going for zero or negative yards.

“A lack of execution offensively,” Newton said when asked what went wrong. “Through my lens, it’s hard to look defensive guys in the eyes after a game like this. Offensively, we didn’t hold up our end of the bargain.”

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McCaffrey, who had 53 total yards, was stopped on fourth-and-1 from the 2-yard line with 1 minute, 21 seconds left, ending the Panthers’ hopes. A week after looking like the best back in the league, he was a nonfactor.

“That’s the thing that’s most frustrating, having the talent and skill set we have and not putting up one touchdown,” Newton said. “That’s just unfortunate. It starts with me. I’ve got to be better man. I’ve got to be better.”

If this trend continues, the Panthers won’t be a factor as a playoff contender.

Buy breakout performance: Kicker Joey Slye, nicknamed “Swole Tweeter” by Newton, was supposed to be a warm body to give Graham Gano’s sore plant leg a rest in training camp. He’s now the starting kicker and proving to be a good one. He had two field goals in the opener and connected on four against Tampa Bay, including a 54-yarder to end the first half. That the kicker is being written about here says a lot.

Troubling trend: Slow starts. The Panthers haven’t scored a touchdown in the first half of either game and have trailed in both. They have four field goals in the first two quarters and have been outscored 23-12. They’re fortunate it hasn’t been worse.

QB breakdown: Newton said the deep ball was in his arsenal after attempting one pass (a 26-yard incompletion) and having no completions of longer than 17 yards in the opener. He proved that with a 44-yard completion to Curtis Samuel in the first quarter in which the ball traveled 38 yards. That was his longest since a 42-yard completion to Devin Funchess in the last game of the 2017 season. But Newton, who finished 25-of-51 for 333 yards with no TDs and no INTs, wasn’t a part of the running game in the read-option, carrying twice for no yards a week after having a career-low minus two yards in three carries. It’s a dreadful total for the quarterback with more rushing yards than any other since 2011. This left McCaffrey a sitting duck and rendered the offense defenseless.

Silver lining: The last time the Panthers started 0-2 was 2013. They went on to a 1-3 start before reeling off eight straight wins to finish the regular season 12-4 and winning the NFC South.

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