The Carolina Panthers of 2011 looked like the Panthers that struggled a year ago on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.
Three points of offense are all the Panthers could muster against a tough and physical Titans defense. Tennessee also made Carolina pay on a few big plays early, allowing them to get ahead and dominate in a 30-3 victory in Charlotte.
"I didn't see a very good football game, truthfully, in every facet of the game" said Panthers coach Ron Rivera.
Many Panthers were frustrated with the end result.
"As a team, I don't think we came out and put our best performance forward, as the scoreboard showed" Newton said. "You live and you learn. We had an excellent game plan going into this week. We just got outplayed today. Simple and plain."
Mistakes early in Sunday's game put the Panthers behind in the contest. Following a three-and-out to open the game on offense, a punt by Carolina's Jason Baker ended up being returned by Tennessee's Marc Mariani for 79 yards, putting the Titans up 7-0 early.
Another change of possession and another Titan's touchdown extended the visiting team's lead. Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck connected with receiver Damien Williams for a 43-yard throw-and-catch.
"Obviously, you can't come out and allowed yourselves to be down 7-0 after special teams and a punt returned for a touchdown," Rivera said. "That handicaps you. When you get a chance to score early, you can't turn the ball over in the end zone. You can't miss tackles and allow a score.Those three chain of events dictated the rest of the game, and that's disappointing."
Adding a 38-yard field goal by Rob Bironas in the second quarter, Tennessee led 17-0.
Meanwhile, the Panthers lone opportunity to score in the half came in its waning moments. Olindo Mare, who missed a potential game-tying field goal last week against Minnesota, missed a late kick wide left, leaving a zero on the scoreboard for Carolina at halftime.
Given a second chance, Mare connected on a 29-yard field goal to put the Panthers on the board first in the second half. Low and behold, it ended up being the team's only score of the game.
Cam Newton battled a strong defensive front for Tennessee all day. He was sacked five times in the game, threw one interception and nearly threw another one in the first half, but it was negated by a penalty.
Newton finished the game completing 23-of-40 passes for 212 yards. On the ground, the rookie quarterback rushed seven times for 55 yards. Sunday marked the first game in the young signal-callers career that he was held without a score in the game.
Rivera said his young quarterback will learn from his first disappointing game of the season.
"Cam will take from this," Rivera said. "He will learn from this. He will grow."
Titans running back Chris Johnson, who only rushed one time for more than 100 yards all season, pounded out 130 yards on the ground. The running back out of East Carolina also caught four catches for 44 yards in the victory.
Johnson's 1-yard scoring run with 2:32 left in the game was the lone touchdown in the second half. Tennessee's Bironas also nailed two field goals in the half from 36 and 49 yards.
The Panthers hit the road next week to take on a rejuvenated Detroit Lions squad, but River said his team will need to use Sunday's game against the Titans as a learning curve.
"This is the type of game that is we, as a team, don't learn about and learn from, we've wasted it," Rivera said. "We are going to figure out some things about who we are Monday and Wednesday."