A 1-4 record is not what the Carolina Panthers envisioned heading into their bye, but it's a dose of reality they have to bear.
Fresh off an added week of rest, the Panthers will get back to work Sunday at home versus the just-as-disenchanted Dallas Cowboys.
Carolina was feeling good about itself with a big Week 2 win versus New Orleans to even their record. And now it's mired in a three-game losing streak that was extended with a 16-12 loss to Seattle on Oct. 7.
The Panthers had a season-low 190 yards of offense and quarterback Cam Newton, coming off a stat-filled loss at Atlanta, recorded a season-low 141 passing yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Newton, who actually hasn't thrown a pick in two straight games, is going through a sophomore slump and was sacked a season-high four times. He has been sacked two or more times on four occasions this season.
"The Bible says that God won't put more on a person than a person can bear, so I'm going to learn from this," Newton said of the slump. "I'm humbled by this, and I'm going to come back and get better.
"I haven't been playing good football, so I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to try and get better with each and every opportunity I'm given. This bye week is going to be an excellent opportunity for me to hone in, go back to fundamentals - my technique in throwing the football, the reads in the offense - and come back and get prepared for the next opponent."
The Panthers' offense is average at best because of Newton's dropoff from his award-winning 2011 campaign. The reigning Rookie of the Year only has two touchdown passes in his past three weeks, but is still a threat running the football. Newton leads the team with 209 yards rushing and three rushing scores -- one more than DeAngelo Williams.
According to Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, Newton has been missing opportunities and is pressing the issue.
"He's got to see it. We'll just keep coaching him up, keep talking with him and express to him the things we need him to do to be successful," Rivera said of Newton's stagnant production.
It hasn't been all Newton's fault this season. The offense hasn't had much success running the football, recording 114.0 yards per game for 13th in the league. Williams is second on Carolina with 173 rushing yards, followed by Jonathan Stewart, who has 107 yards in just three games. Carolina's blocking package lost a vital piece when center Ryan Kalil was finished for the season with a Lisfranc injury. Kalil, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, was placed on injured reserve and had started 59 games in a row.
Right guard Geoff Hangartner is expected to move to center, while Jeff Byers could see action there. Hangartner missed the Seattle game and Garry Williams may move to guard or tackle for the Panthers, who signed center Thomas Austin last week.
The Cowboys probably can relate to Carolina's pain of not reaching the win column on a regular basis. They were coming off a bye and entered Sunday's game at Baltimore with a positive outlook, only to suffer a 31-29 setback that was marred by late-game issues with the offense.
Hoping to set up kicker Dan Bailey for what would have been a game-winning field goal, Dallas couldn't get its offense lined up in time and settled on a challenging 51-yard try. The kick was no good and the Cowboys, who recovered an onside kick moments before, wasted an offensive performance against one of the more intimidating stop units in the NFL.
"It took a long time to get us into formation for the play we wanted to get into," Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. "Once it got below a certain point, it was not in our best interest to run another play. ... those extra six or seven seconds are what made the difference to run another a play."
Dallas has had issues before when it comes to clock management. In fact, it has happened three times in the past 10 games dating back to 2011. At least Romo got back on track somewhat and finished 25-of-36 passing for 261 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. In a loss to Chicago before the bye, Romo was picked off five times with one TD pass.
The Cowboys, losers of two straight and three of four games, racked up 481 yards and had possession for more than 40 minutes against a Ravens defense that was marred by injuries. To add insult to injury, Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is expected to miss at least a week with a foot injury and an MRI afterward revealed a sprain.
Felix Jones will be the top candidate to replace Murray and backups Phillips Tanner and Lance Dunbar are expected to share some of the load for Dallas, which is 20th in rushing yards with just 99.6 per game. That could change Sunday as Carolina is 23rd in run defense, surrendering 127.4 ypg.
Dallas has won eight of the 11 all-time meetings with Carolina, including the previous four matchups in the series. The Cowboys have won three in a row as the guest against the Panthers and recorded a 21-7 victory the last time these two teams met on Sept. 28, 2009. Romo threw for 255 yards in that one.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Panthers' offense, especially Newton, will find it difficult to pass and rack up yards against Dallas on Sunday. Home-field advantage won't play a role in this either since Carolina is 1-2 at Bank of America Stadium. Newton is the leader of the offense and everyone around him, especially the receivers, suffers when he is not on top of his game.
Steve Smith, Newton's favorite target, is averaging just 59 yards receiving the past three games and went over the 100-yard mark in each of the first two games of the season. Getting Smith, who had a season-high seven receptions in the 2012 lid-lifter, more involved can only aid the healing process. Smith extended his team-record consecutive games with a reception streak to 80 two weeks ago. The possibility of getting wide receiver David Gettis back would be a bonus. Gettis has been on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list with a knee and hamstring injury and is excited to get back to work.
"I'm practicing on Monday," Gettis said. "It's been a long time coming for me, a lot of hard work and a lot of people's prayers. I'm very anxious and very excited."
Dallas is No. 1 against the pass over five games, holding aerial attacks to 181.6 yards per game, and second in total yards given up (285.2).
Romo and the Cowboys may have to step it up passing wise since Murray is nursing a foot injury. Can Jones carry the load in his place? Sure, he's done it before and is facing a Panthers defense rated 23rd against the rush (127.4).
"I admire [Felix] and what he does," Tanner said. "He's a great example to all of us. He always keeps his head up. That's one thing I admire about him."
But Garrett should get the Cowboys rolling early via air raid. Romo is 3-0 as a starter against the Panthers.
The Panthers hope to have some defensive weapons back in safety Chris Gamble (shoulder) and linebacker Jon Beason (knee). And that could make it hard for the 'Boys to get moving along offensively. Dallas wideout Dez Bryant leads the team with 364 receiving yards and found the end zone twice for the first time this season in Baltimore. Bryant has enjoyed back-to-back productive weeks.
Perhaps more targets to Miles Austin could open Dallas' offense. Austin has a total of six receptions over the previous two games.
This game could go either way because both teams are coming off disappointing losses, Carolina, though, had an extra week to think about making adjustments and correcting mistakes. But will that be enough to get the Panthers on track? Unfortunately, that won't be the case when Romo picks apart the defense for 300-plus yards and perhaps a few touchdown passes. It would be even worse if the Cowboys' backfield was at full strength.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cowboys 24, Panthers 13