David NewtonESPN Editor5 minute read
CHICAGO — Carolina Panthers rookie quarterback Bryce Young looked shocked as his teammates stopped by his locker to offer him comforting words following Thursday night’s 16-13 loss to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
And for good reason.
The top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft led the Panthers to just two field goals — Carolina’s only touchdown came on a 79-yard punt return in the first quarter — against a defense ranked 28th in the NFL before Thursday, giving 26.9. points a game.
He was dominated by Bears quarterback Tyson Bagent, an undrafted rookie from a Division II school who was filling in for injured starter Justin Fields.
Young couldn’t get Carolina any closer in the game’s final minute than a 59-yard field goal attempt by Eddy Pineiro failed to tie the game. And his last pass before that should have been intercepted after hitting linebacker Jack Sanborn’s hands.
“Yeah, we’re all frustrated,” Young said after Carolina fell to 1-8, tying Arizona for the worst record in the NFL. “It’s a frustrating situation. It’s not who we are, who we want to be. We are what we put on tape, we are what we put on the field and we have to be better.
Young’s frustration reached such a level that he then addressed his teammates in a way they had never seen after any of the other losses.
“He kind of shared his emotion,” receiver Adam Thielen said without going into detail.
Tight end Hayden Hurst, whose locker at Soldier Field was next to Young’s, appreciated Young speaking out.
“He may be young, but he is the leader of this team,” he said. “We need to rally around him and find a solution to some things.”
Thielen and Hurst agreed that Young’s frustration in no way impacted his performance for an offense that has produced just two touchdowns in 12 quarters since head coach Frank Reich handed the duties game to offensive coordinator Thomas Brown.
“We’re not hitting on all cylinders,” Thielen said. “We’re not hitting on any cylinder, to be honest. It’s an embarrassing effort. Everyone is embarrassed to score six points on offense. Without that punt return, it was like we didn’t do anything .
Reich seemed equally shocked afterwards. It’s not what he envisioned when the Panthers sent the Bears two first-round picks and wide receiver DJ Moore (5 catches, 58 yards Thursday) to move from No. 9 to No. 1 in the draft for get Young.
But Reich isn’t concerned that offensive struggles and mounting turnovers will impact Young’s confidence or his ability to lead. He still believes there is enough talent around Young to win games this season.
“He’s mentally tougher than a lot of rookie quarterbacks,” Reich said. “I mean, as a rookie quarterback, given the start we’ve had, I don’t think I see any decline in him. … I see aggression. I see resolve. I see of determination.
“I feel like he takes ownership of it. He probably takes ownership of it more than he should because it’s a group effort.”
“It’s the opposite,” he said. “His passion, the kind of message he sends us after the match, it’s just the opposite. We have more confidence in him – he’s going to continue to work, to find a way to improve – and he gave us all challenged to look in the mirror to find a way to improve to help him.
“At the end of the day, it’s not a one-player league. It’s not the NBA where you can have one or two guys and have success. You have to have guys at every position.”
That could mean changes when the Panthers return Monday after a weekend off. The lack of a running game (43 yards rushing against Chicago) and the weekly pressure Young is under from opposing pass rushes could indicate that these changes are coming to the offensive line.
But the bottom line, as Young and his teammates said Thursday night, is that execution needs to improve across the board.
“We’re better than that,” running back Chuba Hubbard said after being held to 23 rushing yards on nine carries. “We’re way better than that. This game tells itself. We have to be able to score points, we have to be able to finish drives, we have to be able to execute at a high level.
“We just don’t do that.”
Young takes on a lot of it, more than Reich and his teammates realize.
This is where the frustration sets in, where the shell shock aspect comes from.
“It’s very frustrating,” Young said. “It’s not just me. It’s everyone. We’re competitors. Losing is frustrating. You know, it’s fresh, you feel it. But at the end of the day, you have to move on.
If the Panthers don’t, the ugliness they displayed Thursday could become even uglier in next Sunday’s home game against the Dallas Cowboys, one of the best teams in the NFC.
“Being frustrated isn’t going to win a game and it’s not going to help,” Young said. “You have to turn that and use it into action throughout the week, and then we have to translate it into Sunday or Thursday.” This needs to be translated. We care.