Was loss to Saints 'rock-bottom' for Bryce Young, Panthers?

ByDavid Newton ESPN logo
Monday, December 11, 2023

NEW ORLEANS --Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Younghas had a lot of games this season when it seemed the top pick of the 2023 draft hit rock-bottom.

There was the 27-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in which he threw two pick-sixes. There was the 33-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in which he threw for 123 yards. There was the 21-18 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in which he had a passer rating of 52.9.

But none of those felt as rock-bottom as Sunday's 28-6 loss to the New Orleans Saints in which Young completed 36% of his passes (13-of-36), the lowest rate by a starting quarterback since Sam Darnold completed 33% in the Panthers' finale last season. Young couldn't get Carolina into the end zone against a defense that had given up an average of 27 points over its past five games.

Although the rookie benefited from a running game that produced 204 yards -- an aggressive game plan that allowed him to take more deep shots than he had all season -- and a defense that was playing well, until two fourth-quarter scores turned the game into a rout.

And yet the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner struggled even when receivers were open.

"Lack of execution, especially from myself,'' Young said. "I missed a lot of things. I thought we played well on the perimeter. We played well up front.

"I've got to continue to get better.''

To be fair, as good as the run blocking was, the pass protection continued to be suspect. Young was sacked four times to bring his total on the season to 48, the fourth most through a player's first 12 games since 1970, behind David Carr (64), Jake Plummer (61) and Sam Howell (54).

Young has already taken the third-most sacks by a Carolina quarterback in a season (Steve Beuerlein was sacked 62 times in 2000 and 50 times in 1999) and has four more games to play.

That Young has missed only one game due to injury during Carolina's league-worst 1-12 start may be his biggest accomplishment.

But as the losses mount, the frustration grows in Young and everyone around him, including interim coach Chris Tabor.

"Everything is frustrating right now, if I could be completely honest,'' Tabor said.

Losing does that to a team, particularly one in its sixth straight season with a losing record.

"We all are tired of it,'' Young said. "But that doesn't entitle us to anything. It's on us. So no matter how tired we are, we've got to be better.''

How that is going to happen in the final four games against the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Buccaneers remains to be seen. All four opponents are competing for playoff spots.

The Panthers are playing to avoid the worst record in franchise history. The 2001 team went 1-15, losing its final 15.

"It's hard,'' said running back Miles Sanders, who rushed 10 times for 74 yards. "The defense played a heck of a game, but they can't do that every game. As an offense ... something's gotta change. Something, I don't know.''

It won't be Young. The Panthers have no plans to turn to veteran Andy Dalton, even though his 361 yards passing in a Week 3 37-27 loss to the Seattle Seahawks(when Young was injured) was the most explosive the offense has been all season.

Tabor believes Young will grow as a player down the stretch.

"He's going to continue to improve,'' Tabor said. "That doesn't concern me at all.''

But Sunday did feel like rock-bottom.

"I mean, as far as rock-bottom, we've been at the bottom for a minute,'' outside linebacker Brian Burns said. "The only thing you can do now is go up.''