The Jimmy Clausen era in Carolina got off to a slow start Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. He fumbled a snap at the Bengals’ 30-yard line, his first pass flew into the chest of Cincinnati defensive end Frostee Rucker, and he threw an interception from just outside the red zone.
All that happened in the first half.
“I really don’t get too nervous out there,” Clausen said when asked about butterflies before his first career start. “I’m just trying to go out there and execute and make plays.”
He showed improvement in the second half as the Panthers moved the ball with more success and displayed more energy. The rookie quarterback from Notre Dame completed 15 of 28 passes in the second half -- including three straight on the Panthers' lone scoring drive of the day.
The Panthers scored a touchdown midway through the third quarter Sunday in a 20-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and dropped to 0-3.
Clausen finished the day going 16-of-33 passing for 188 yards and threw an interception and fumbled two snaps.
“When we made the change a week ago, I did mention that I didn’t think it was just one guy,” Panthers head coach John Fox said. “I’m not sure I think any differently today. The guy he replaced had eight NFL starts, not eight years, so we’re pretty young at that position.”
Fox said it is too early to say if Clausen will start next week at quarterback when the Panthers travel to New Orleans for a game against the defending Super Bowl champions.
Clausen had trouble finding Panthers receiver Steve Smith in the 13-point loss. Smith, who had only 22 yards receiving and spent most of the game under double coverage, got his first catch in the fourth quarter and showed frustration.
“It’s not really my call. It really doesn’t matter,” Smith said. “They throw me the ball, they don’t throw me the ball – I’ve still got a job to do. If the ball comes I’ll try to catch it, and if it doesn’t, you can’t catch air. I’m going to continue to do my job.”
In the first half, Carolina had 44 yards rushing, 14 yards passing – a catch by running back Mike Goodson -- and zero points. It trailed Cincinnati by 10 points at halftime after the Bengals controlled the ball 21 minutes 15 seconds in the first two quarters.
Cincinnati grabbed a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard touchdown by running back Cedric Benson, and they increased that lead to 10 with 1:10 left in the second quarter on a 33-yard field goal by Mike Nugent.
Carolina’s offense got on the board in the second half on a 1-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Stewart. DeAngelo Williams led the Panthers with 64 yards rushing on 10 carries, and Stewart had only 13 yards on eight carries.
The defense, despite spending a lot of time on the field Sunday, collected two interceptions in the first half and dropped four potential interceptions throughout the course of the game.
“We have got to take advantage of opportunities when they are given to us, and we just didn’t do it,” linebacker Jon Beason said. “We just have to execute and stop shooting ourselves in the foot.”
The Panthers’ secondary limited Bengals wide receivers Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco to four catches apiece for 76 combined yards and no touchdowns. Tight end Jermaine Gersham ended the game with a team-high 59 yards receiving.
Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer ended the game going 19 of 37 for 195 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions.
“We’ve got to keep working to have some answers with it,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “But right now…we’ll get it.”
Bengals running back Cedric Benson was also held to 81 yards rushing on 27 carries, and he scored both touchdowns in the win. His second score of the game was a seven-yard touchdown catch with 8:11 left in the game on a swing pass to the right side of the field.
The catch was his first receiving touchdown in his six-year career.