Carolina Panthers interim head coach Chris Tabor didn’t break any news when he said that his faith in rookie quarterback Bryce Young hasn’t wavered.
But it was worth reiterating Monday after the Panthers’ 28-6 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
“I think the one way to become a better football player is playing football,” Tabor said in response to a question about playing veteran backup Andy Dalton as Young continues to struggle. “That’s a pretty simple statement. The only way you’re going to gain experience in the National Football League is by playing.
“I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Bryce. And I know that there will be games and plays that he’s going to want back. But no, that hasn’t come into play.”
The Panthers have been public about their confidence in Young all season. Tabor proved Sunday his wasn’t just coach-speak, either: The Panthers (1-12) took a handful of shots down the field against the toothsome Saints secondary — many more than in previous contests and a few of which came on third- and fourth-and-short, even as the Panthers’ run game had a banner, 204-yard day.
Those attempts, however valiant and a change of pace for a team that has been criticized for not throwing enough down the field this year, rarely connected. Young finished 13-of-36 passing (a season-low 36.1 completion percentage) and only had one completion go for more than 20 yards.
The worst sequence of the game might have been at the end of the first half, when the Panthers inherited the ball in opposing territory after a Derrick Brown interception, but then saw four straight incompletions punctuate the half — including two throws intended for Jonathan Mingo, one of which was wide open.
“I think you’re always looking to take shots when you can,” Tabor said. “They really just played man-to-man the whole game, so you’re going to be able to take some shots there. We didn’t connect when we wanted to. And that’s another area that we gotta improve upon.”
Here’s a recap of what else Tabor said Monday.
Punt block (fumble?) unacceptable, but Johnny Hekker is healthy
Sunday had a lot of potential-turning-point moments that the Panthers either squandered for themselves or enabled for the Saints. The most consequential was the blocked punt that turned into a Saints touchdown and made the game 14-3 right before halftime.
The punt-play mishap — which was technically ruled a fumble because Saints linebacker Nephi Sewell got there so fast — came thanks to the fact that two Panthers players defended the B gap instead of the A gap on the left side.
— NFL (@NFL) December 10, 2023
“Pretty simple,” Tabor said. “We had a man not perform his responsibility on the play. And that’s what took place. Unfortunately plays like that on special teams are usually a result of someone making a busted assignment. It’s unfortunate, but more importantly it can’t happen. And I think that’s the thing we gotta work to get cleaned up.”
Tabor added: “Once you do that, and you put it on tape, I always say there’s blood in the water (for opposing special teams units).”
Panthers punter Johnny Hekker came up gimpy after the shot he took on the play. Tabor said that “he’s doing fine” and that “everything checked out” when Hekker was evaluated after the play.
Panthers players are off until Wednesday
Tabor said he elected to give his team the day off on Monday and Tuesday this week. Players are still welcome to come in and get treatment and work in, but there are no formal meetings planned.
“It was something I decided on,” Tabor said. “ I just think you need to read your team, read the room. And sometimes getting away, and just kind of clearing your mind is a good solution (rather than) having the same routine all the time, if that makes sense.”