CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When you have just fallen to 1-9, and you’re guaranteed a sixth straight losing season, and there are rumblings your head coach could be on the hot seat, you look for anything positive.
Instead of focusing on the pick-six thrown by rookie quarterback Bryce Young on the first play after Dallas scored a touchdown to take a 14-point lead early in the fourth quarter, or Young’s fumble the next series when he wasn’t even hit, Tremble turned to the Panthers’ 17-play, 70-yard drive in the third quarter that got them within a touchdown.
He focused on the three fourth-down conversions in that 8-minute, 58-second drive, during which Young completed six of 10 pass attempts for 45 yards, including the 4-yard touchdown to Tremble.
“The confidence just to drive down the field and be able to score, going for it on fourth down. That — as much as the end result wasn’t what we wanted — that helps build this team, that builds the character, that builds the grit,” Tremble said. “That’s what’s going to keep us on the right track, especially in this hard time.”
At 1-9, coach Frank Reich is in the midst of one of the worst seasons in Carolina history. He is trying to keep Young, the 2023 No. 1 draft pick, from losing his confidence while critics suggest Carolina would have been better off taking C.J. Stroud with the top pick.
“This season has been such ups and downs that we all as men are collectively trying to keep stacking,” Tremble said. “Today you saw the progress of it and you saw the negatives. We’ve just got to fix the negatives. That’s the only thing that’s holding us back is the problems that we cause for ourselves.
“And so if we can fix that, I really feel like the sky is the limit for us.”
That was the theme from Reich to the players. The drive was almost like a symbol of what could be.
Much of the drive was built around Carolina running the no-huddle offense, when Young seems most comfortable, and going with a 12-personnel set (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) instead of one tight end and three or four wide receivers, as had been the case for much of the season.
It opened up the running game that netted 110 yards after producing only 43 last week against Chicago. That created the balance Reich was seeking when he reclaimed playcalling duties this past week after turning it over to offensive coordinator Thomas Brown for three games.
What it didn’t do was protect Young, who was sacked seven times and pressured on 35% of his dropbacks.
But there were things Reich and players saw in that drive that they believe will be useful over the final seven games.
“There are some things we found that we can kind of lean on, some bigger people on the field, and just moving the ball anyway we have to,” said Adam Thielen, who led Carolina with eight catches for 74 yards.
“Still, we have to get a lot better.”
That was obvious after Carolina had 187 yards of total offense, the fewest since Week 17 of 2021 against the New Orleans Saints. The Panthers had only 13 first downs and produced only 10 points, making it four straight games in which the team has scored 15 or fewer points.
That’s not good when owner David Tepper hired Reich because of his offensive prowess.
“It’s preferable to have a coach that is really extraordinary on one side of the ball or the other side of the ball,” Tepper said the day Reich was hired. “And we think Frank is really good on offense.”
The Panthers haven’t been good offensively. They rank in the bottom half of the league in most categories, including scoring. They came into the day ranked 29th with 17 points per game.
Young hasn’t been good statistically. His pick-six was his third in three games and gave him eight interceptions to only nine touchdowns on the season.
It reached the point on Sunday where Thielen was asked if he ever felt sorry for Young
“Yeah, you feel bad, obviously, because you know how hard he works, you know how good of a football player he is, and the results aren’t coming with that,” he said.
The third-quarter drive was a small sample of why Thielen and others have faith in their quarterback and what this offense can be when more pieces are added.
“I think he’s made to handle stuff like this, and I don’t think he’ll accept it,” Reich said.
Tremble agreed. That’s why the tight end focused on the positive of Sunday’s loss as they begin to prepare for the Titans next week (1 p.m. ET, Fox).
“Really, just his poise in that stuff,” he said. “Because it’s hard, man. It’s hard playing an NFL game, especially with a good defense like that, it’s hard to keep your composure, but he still kept it even when stuff wasn’t going our way.
“He wanted to win. He was telling us, ‘Let’s go win this thing, I still got y’all.’ And we had him.”
First appeared on www.espn.com