CHARLOTT, North Carolina – The Carolina Panthers didn’t win the Super Bowl on Sunday, as wide receiver Robbie Anderson reminded everyone in the locker room, who recorded the NFL’s longest losing streak of nine games.
“Some people can get caught up in the moment and get comfortable,” Anderson explained his message after beating the New Orleans Saints 22-14. “We have a long way to go to our goal.”
But the victory may have revealed the identity of the Panthers team under coach Matt Rule — and it has nothing to do with offense and quarterback Baker Mayfield.
It’s all about protection.
The division appears to be legitimately moving towards going from “good to great,” as it did in the off-season after the 2021 season, when the defense finished second in the NFL.
The only thing missing from a 2-0 start, when the defense played well enough to win, were losses. He didn’t have them, making the Carolinas the only team in the NFL not to have them.
That ended on Sunday in the first quarter when linebacker Frankie Luvu robbed Saints running back Alvin Kamaru and end Marquis Haynes Sr returned it for 44 yards for Carolina’s first defensive touchdown since November 29, 2020.
Then, in the fourth quarter, with the outcome yet to be decided, the defense drafted quarterback Jameis Winston twice, the second time with eight seconds left.
The defense also held Kamara for 61 yards a week after holding back running back Sakuon Barkley of the New York Giants for 72 yards after posting 164 yards a week earlier.
“We wanted to have high expectations,” Haynes said. “We have been challenged [Saturday] a night to have fun again and go back to the old loss defense and just have fun.”
High defensive expectations were somewhat lost during a two-point loss to the Browns in Game 1 and a three-point loss to the Giants in Week 2 due to Mayfield’s poor performance.
This continued on Sunday when Mayfield lost their third consecutive low-quality match. He completed only 12 of 25 pass attempts for 170 yards and one touchdown, a 67-yard one in which Laviska Chenault Jr. caught the ball behind the line of scrimmage, missed defenseman PJ Williams’ diving tackle, and raced untouched into the end zone. .
Prior to that, Mayfield had a dismal 9-for-20 record for 76 yards. His 52% completion rate this season is his lowest in three games, and his overall rating as a quarterback who ranked last in the NFL on Sunday won’t improve after his game against the Saints.
“I’m going to look back at the tape and not be happy with my performance,” Mayfield said.
Mayfield, as has often been the case in Cleveland’s past four years, needs solid play and defense to succeed. He rarely manages to beat a team alone, as Cam Newton did with the Panthers in his prime.
The Panthers were able to overcome Mayfield’s mediocrity on Sunday after Christian McCaffrey’s 108-yard run and their defense.
That’s not to say that Mayfield won’t have good days, but not so far.
“Attack is always a work in progress,” McCaffrey said. “It’s kind of a way of thinking that we have. Every week is a new week. And every week there are different challenges.”
On Sunday, the defense was at its best, as in most of the first three games, except for failures in defense against Cleveland.
“Robbie said it best,” Luvu said. “We haven’t won the Super Bowl yet. We won one game. So we just embrace that mentality every week.”