CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Before the St. Louis Rams lost their starting quarterback and the game, they lost something that drives coaches crazy: Their poise.
And that has Jeff Fisher concerned.
The Rams were flagged five times for personal fouls — two of those on offensive lineman Harvey Dahl — and defensive end Chris Long was ejected for throwing a punch in a 30-15 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
After the game Fisher lectured his players "Don't hurt the football team."
But they did time and time again.
"I was just frustrated. It was a frustrating situation," said Long, who was ejected in the third quarter. "We weren't playing to our potential at the time and there was a big scuffle in there. I just got caught and probably lost my cool the most. I apologize for that. That was wrong and I need to be more composed."
Dahl did not speak to the media.
Things escalated in the third quarter when Rams defensive end Robert Quinn decked Cam Newton after he handed off to DeAngelo Williams on a read option play. Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross, who allowed Quinn to get by him, locked up with Quinn on the next play which started a scuffle involving more than a dozen players.
It appeared to be just about over when Long suddenly threw a late punch, sending flags flying in the air.
"Things just got out of hand," Quinn said. "Everybody's got to keep their cool. We can't allow things to affect us, we know better. Like I said, things got out of hand. We're professionals we can't have things like that happen."
While the Rams (3-4) are suddenly reeling, Newton and the Panthers appear to have found their stride.
Newton turned in his second straight quality start, completing 15 of 17 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown and the Panthers defeated Rams 30-15 in a heated game Sunday that included several fights and personal foul penalties.
In the past two games, Newton is 35 of 43 for 464 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions as the Panthers (3-3) have won back-to-back games for the first time this season.
"I feel like I am progressing," said Newton, who is 16-22 as an NFL starter.
Newton said he believes he's making better decisions, although he chided himself for taking sacks on two plays that essentially ended drives.
"I've got to throw the ball away," Newton said. "Just give my guys a chance and when we do that, it's exciting to watch. Anytime I have got an opportunity to give a dink or dunk to these guys, they make the big plays."
Steve Smith caught five passes for 69 yards and a touchdown and Mike Tolbert scored his third touchdown rushing of the season.
Panthers safety Mitchell, a free agent pickup, was instrumental in the Carolina win.
He not only had eight tackles and two forced fumbles, but also goaded offensive lineman Dahl and wide receiver Brian Quick into unnecessary roughness penalties.
"We wanted to do a better job of being more mature, being the more composed team," Mitchell said. "We had the game in hand and we could tell by the way they were playing that they wanted to get somebody cheap, try to get us a penalty, something like that. We weren't going to give it to them. We just needed to stay disciplined."
The Panthers were flagged for two personal fouls.
It was a rough day all around for quarterback Sam Bradford, who left the game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury.
Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn intercepted the former No. 1 draft pick on the game's first play and returned it 45 yards for a score. Bradford also had a long TD pass to Tavon Austin called back on a penalty, and Quick dropped a pass in the end zone.
The Panthers' third-ranked defense forced three turnovers and had four sacks.
The Panthers have a chance to get above .500 for the first time since the end of the 2008 season when they travel to Tampa Bay on Thursday night.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Newton's steady play is a big reason for the team's optimism moving forward.
"He has done a great job," Rivera said. "You talk about things that he does and his reads and learning to go through his progressions the right way. ... When you see him doing those types of things to give us a chance to win, you know that he has matured."
NOTES: This was the Rams' first outdoor game of the season. ... Bradford finished with 255 yards passing. He has thrown three interceptions which have been returned for touchdowns. ... Zac Stacy was limited to 53 yards rushing.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org