CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera doesn’t foresee any changes to the coaching staff or roster following his team’s latest lopsided loss.
“The answers are in the locker room, in the classroom and on the coaching staff,” the coach said.
However, while the Panthers continue searching for those solutions time is running out on a forgettable season.
Carolina (3-8-1) entered Sunday’s game at Minnesota in control of its own playoff destiny in the NFC South, but played uninspired football in the cold and allowed the Vikings to return two blocked punts for touchdowns in a 31-13 loss.
Rivera’s preseason goal of posting back-to-back winning season for the first time in franchise history won’t happen.
And while the Panthers remain mathematically alive in the weak NFC South, a seven-game winless streak suggests the chances of running the table in December are highly unlikely.
Carolina ranks 27th in the league in points scored, while allowing the third-most points in the league. Its special teams rank near the bottom of nearly every statistical category in the NFL and has allowed three returns for touchdowns.
Struggling quarterback Cam Newton said after Sunday’s loss he was concerned the Panthers are losing their “swagger.”
“When we keep trying to point and find excuses, we’re going to keep getting those types of results,” Newton said. “It will start by all 11 guys on that field taking full responsibility and accepting coaching and getting better.”
Linebacker A.J. Klein said the only thing the Panthers can do now is look ahead.
“If we dwell on this and don’t move forward that’s just going to eat away at the team and grow like a cancer — so you just try and stay positive,” Klein said.
It might help too if the Panthers start faster.
Carolina has been outscored 178-85 in the first half, and has held a lead for only 140 minutes, 54 seconds of the 735 minutes it has played this season, per STATS.
Rivera continues to call Newton the team’s quarterback of the future, even though he’s in a massive slump that includes at least one interception in eight straight games. Newton hasn’t had much help from a young offensive line assigned to protect him. He’s been under siege in the pocket, sacked 25 times in the last six games.
Rivera said Monday there are “various reasons” for the team’s demise following a 12-4 season last year, but said he didn’t want to dwell on the negative. He said the goal is finish strong and win the final four games.
The Panthers travel to New Orleans on Sunday, return home to face Tampa Bay and Cleveland, and finish the season the road at Atlanta.
“It will test our character,” Rivera said.
Rivera seems content to ride out the schedule with the coaches and players he has rather than making any changes.
“We’re not going to doing anything kneejerk,” Rivera said. “We’re going to go through the process. A year ago it was good enough, and now it’s not. We have to find out why, and what happened. We believe we know and now we have to correct it. It’s not like we don’t know what happening. ... (But) you don’t give up on something just because something negative happens. If we did we would be a nation of quitters. And I ain’t quitting on us.”
In the meantime, the Panthers are turning more and more to young players like cornerback Bene Benwikere, safety Tre Boston, offensive tackle Mike Remmers and wide receivers Philly Brown and De’Andre Presley.
Rivera insisted that isn’t about playing for next season, but rather putting the best players on the field that give the team the best chance to win.
“If it happens that we’re putting a younger guy on the field then so be it,” Rivera said.
Rivera said DeAngelo Williams broke a bone in his right hand on Sunday, but said the 31-year-old running back should be able to play Sunday at New Orleans if the swelling subsides.