Rookie QB Bryce Young, Panthers remain optimistic despite 0-2 start

CHARLOTTE — Everyone else in the NFC South is off to a 2-0 start, but the Carolina Panthers are 0-2 and now have four straight games against teams with winning records last season. Despite their early struggles, first-year Panthers coach Frank Reich and rookie quarterback Bryce Young say this is no time to panic.

“I’ve seen this before. It’s not that far away,” Reich said after a 20-17 home loss to the Saints on Monday night. “It looks bad, but really, I don’t believe it’s that far away. … I know we have the players and the coaches to do it. I have zero doubt about that. It’s just we have to execute better on offense.”

After opening the year with a 24-10 loss to the Falcons, the Panthers again struggled to move the ball consistently and score with Young, this year’s No. 1 overall draft pick, at quarterback. Their defense played well enough to keep them close, tied 6-6 late in the third quarter and trailing just 13-9 midway through the fourth, but this isn’t the start they envisioned for 2023.

“Obviously, we’re not where we need to be right now,” said Young, who threw for just 153 yards on 33 passes but did have a 26-yard run. “But there’s no loss of confidence, no loss of faith in the locker room. I’m grateful to be a part of this team. I believe in this team, believe in the coaching staff. I feel like we have what it takes, and we just have to execute and do a better job of putting it together. Ultimately, we have to go out and prove that. I’m confident.”


The opponents won’t make that any easier. On Sunday, the Panthers go to Seattle, and after a home game against Minnesota, they’re back on the road to play at Detroit and Miami. All four went 9-8 or better last season, and the Panthers would do well to split those four games and be 2-4 at their bye week. Reich said he has seen teams bounce back from worse.

“This is a week-to-week league. All that matters is the next week,” Reich said. “We started 1-5 and made the playoffs one year. I’m not saying that is easy to do, we don’t want to do that, we don’t want to start off poorly, but every year it happens.”

Reich’s first job as a head coach was with the 2018 Colts, who started out 1-5 and rallied to finish 10-6 and make the playoffs, but that was also with 29-year-old Andrew Luck at quarterback and not a rookie like Young. Injuries have hit the Panthers hard — they’re playing without both starting guards, top corner Jaycee Horn just went on injured reserve and will miss at least three more games, and Monday’s loss saw linebacker Shaq Thompson leave the game with an ankle injury that Reich conceded was “significant” and will result in him missing “some extended time.”

Young’s first two games have featured normal rookie struggles. He threw two interceptions against the Falcons, lost a fumble in the red zone on Monday and had another sack-fumble negated by a defensive holding penalty. He has yet to click with his offensive weapons, with only one pass play longer than 15 yards and that being a 22-yarder Monday. Receiver Adam Thielen has nine catches for a paltry 66 yards, and receiver DJ Chark had just one target Monday after missing the opener due to injury.

David Helman breaks down New Orleans’ victory over Carolina

David Helman breaks down New Orleans' victory over Carolina

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Carolina opened Monday’s game 1-for-9 on third downs, finishing 4-for-14 with only one conversion when needing more than four yards to move the chains. The Panthers also struggled in third-and-short, going 2-for-6 when needing three yards or fewer, leading to them having 119 yards of total offense entering the fourth quarter. Carolina had two sustained drives: 62 yards and a field goal, then 75 yards for a touchdown, but that was too late to pull off a comeback Monday night.

“The great thing about the locker room is I’m not the only one who takes accountability,” Young said. “I’m not the only one who feels like this. We all want to look in the mirror. We all have belief. We believe in each other. There’s no pointing fingers. … We all feel like we can be better, and I know that for a fact. There’s stuff that I want back and have to grow from and continue to improve at, but I’m grateful to be in a locker room where we all share that feeling and share that belief.”

If Young needed a word of encouragement early in his NFL career, he got several in postgame from Saints quarterback Derek Carr, who spoke to him after the game and had praise for the rookie and a reminder that it’s a difficult position to learn on the job.

“I just think the world of him,” Carr said. “I think he’s got a good head on his shoulders and he’s going to work hard. He’s got great people around him in that organization, from the owner, the general manager, the coaching staff. He’s going to get loved up, he’s going to get positivity every day, he’s going to get corrected in the right way. 

“I think the sky’s the limit for him. But hopefully not yet.”

Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.

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