Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and David Gettis combined for five catches for 45 yards. (Photo by John Clark)
CHARLOTTE – After Sunday’s humiliating 34-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints talk quickly turned from the team’s problems on the field to the possible reason behind them.
In the locker room, wide receiver Steve Smith became the first player to question the team’s decision to go cheap this past spring and part ways with veteran players while not bringing in proven quality replacements.
“It’s coming back to haunt us,” Smith said of the personnel decisions. “It’s like dragging a piano with one arm and one leg – we’re getting nowhere fast.”
Meanwhile, outgoing lame duck head coach John Fox continued to distance himself from team’s offseason decisions in Sunday’s post-game press conference. Fox has always preferred a veteran team, but has been forced to handle the youngest roster in the league with three young quarterbacks.
When asked if the team might bring in a veteran quarterback, Fox snipped, “You’d have to ask someone in the personnel department about that.”
And when asked if he’s upset there isn’t a veteran quarterback on the roster, Fox followed up by saying, “I’m not going to comment on personnel.”
For eight years Fox and general manager Marty Hurney made decisions on personnel together, but that seemed to change this offseason when the Panthers decided to blow up a roster that two years ago won the NFC South championship. That can be traced back to the team’s decision not to extend Fox’s contract, which expires at the end of the season as well as owner Jerry Richardson’s direct involvement in the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement talks with the players’ union.
“I’m not going to get into all of that,” Fox said when asked about his role in the decision making. “You can ask the personnel people.”
It would be easy to say the 1-7 Panthers hit rock bottom on Sunday with their offense failing to break the 10-point barrier for the fifth time this season. But then again, they still have eight games to go, so things could get worse.
This year’s Panthers are on pace to score 176 points, 77 fewer than George Seifert’s 1-15 team in 2001.
“I plead the fifth,” Smith said when asked if this team is worse than the one he began his career with in 2001. “I have respect for those guys I played with. But I know the answer in my head, and I’m not going to say.”
The fact that the Panthers managed 195 yards of offense on Sunday was a farce considering how they struggled to move the football.
Matt Moore started the game and was 3 of 6 for 13 yards before leaving the game with a shoulder injury with 12 minutes to go in the second quarter. He was replaced by Clausen, who was 8 of 18 for 47 yards with one interception that was returned for a touchdown by Jabari Greer.
Pike, the emergency quarterback, entered the game in the fourth quarter and completed 6 of 12 passes for 47 yards.
“There probably wasn’t much fear of a comeback in the game so it gives him valuable time and experience,” Fox said of using Pike.
It didn’t help that the Panthers came into the game without DeAngelo Williams and then lost fellow running backs Jonathan Stewart (head) and Tyrell Sutton (ankle) to injuries. Linebacker Dan Connor (hip) and defensive end Greg Hardy (head) also left the game early.
It’s been a frustrating season for Fox and, on Sunday, things seemed to be festering.
“We are not really a juggernaut right now but to lose two of your three running backs that were active for the day and your starting quarterback, things could go from kind of not so good to really bad,” Fox said. “Our issues offensively start at quarterback but it’s not just the quarterback. We are just not executing very well. I wish I knew the answer. We’ve got nothing to do but keep working and get better and we’ll continue to do that.”
Fox said if Moore is healthy, he’ll start against Tampa Bay next Sunday.
“It would be fairly obvious that it would be Matt,” Fox said. “He can operate our offense the best of the quarterbacks, unless we decide to go with the wishbone or some kind of option offense.”
Smith called Carolina’s effort “pretty pathetic.”
“That would be the only thing I could say,” Smith said. “No explanations, no excuses. Obviously, Matt (Moore) going down early, that hurt us and it pretty much snowballed from there, downhill, full-speed.”
On the other side of the field, the juggernaut that is Drew Brees sliced apart Carolina’s defense completing 27 of 43 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns. He had one pass picked on the game’s first drive after it sailed off Marques Colston’s hands.
“He’s a great quarterback, you can’t take that away from him,” defensive end Everette Brown said of Brees. “Watching him on film, he doesn’t get around the edge a lot so we wanted to push the pocket and get in his face from the outside in. At the beginning, they were spending a lot of time making calls from the line so we had time to move around and create some confusion. Toward the end of the game, they were able to snap the ball quicker and when you let Drew set the tempo of the game, he’s tough to stop. That was the thing, we weren’t able to set the tempo and keep the tempo.”
Frankly, they weren’t able to do much of anything.
When asked if he’s done all he can do, Fox tried to find something positive to say.
“No, because we have eight games left,” he said. “We’ve done exactly half way of what we can do. We’ve got half of the season to go and we’ll keep grinding until we get better.”