May 20, 2024

CHICAGO — Carolina Panthers‘ rookie quarterback Bryce Young looked shell-shocked as teammates stopped by his locker to offer comforting words following Thursday night’s 16-13 loss to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

And with good reason.

The top pick of the 2023 NFL draft led the Panthers to only two field goals — Carolina’s lone touchdown came on a 79-yard punt return in the first quarter — against a defense that ranked 28th in the NFL heading into Thursday, allowing 26.9 points a game.

He was outplayed by Bears quarterback Tyson Bagent, an undrafted rookie out of a Division II school who was filling in for injured starter Justin Fields.

Young couldn’t get Carolina closer in the game’s final minute than a 59-yard field goal attempt by Eddy Pineiro that fell well short of tying the game. And his final pass before that should have been intercepted after hitting linebacker Jack Sanborn in the hands.

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Eddy Pineiro’s tying field goal attempt comes up short

Eddy Pineiro attempts to tie the score for the Panthers with a 59-yard field goal, but the kick comes up well short.

“Yeah, we’re all frustrated,” Young said after Carolina fell to 1-8, tying Arizona for the worst record in the NFL. “Frustrating situation to be in. 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 addressed teammates afterward in a way they hadn’t seen after any of the other losses.

“Kind of just shared his emotion,” wide receiver Adam Thielen said without getting into specifics.

Tight end Hayden Hurst, whose locker at Soldier Field was next to Young’s, appreciated Young speaking out.

“He may be young, but he’s the leader of this team,” he said. “We’ve got to rally behind him and kind of figure some things out.”

Thielen and Hurst agreed that in no way has Young’s frustration impacted his performance for an offense that has produced only two touchdowns in 12 quarters since head coach Frank Reich turned the playcalling duties over to offensive coordinator Thomas Brown.

“We’re not hitting on all cylinders,” Thielen said. “We’re not hitting on any cylinders, to be honest. It’s an embarrassing effort. Everyone is embarrassed to put up six points on offense. Without that punt return it was like we didn’t do anything.

“It’s embarrassing.”

Reich looked equally shell-shocked afterward. This is 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 to get Young.

But Reich isn’t worried that the offensive struggles and the mounting losses are impacting Young’s confidence or ability to lead. He still believes there’s enough talent around Young to win games this season.

“He is mentally tougher than a lot of rookie quarterbacks,” Reich said. “I mean, as a rookie quarterback, considering the start we’ve had, I don’t think I see any retreat in him. … I see aggressiveness. I see resolve. I see determination.

“I feel like he’s taking ownership of it. He’s taken probably more ownership than he should because it’s a group effort.”

Thielen agreed.

“The opposite,” he said. “His passion, his kind of message to us after the game, it does a total opposite. We have more confidence in him — that he’s going to keep working, keeping figuring out a way that he can get better — and he’s challenged all of us to look in a mirror to find a way to get better to help him out.

“At the end of the day, this is not a one-person league. This isn’t the NBA where you can have one or two guys and have success. You got to have guys at every position.”

That could mean changes when the Panthers return Monday from a weekend off. The lack of a running game (43 yards rushing against Chicago) and the weekly pressure Young is under by opposing pass rushes might indicate those changes are coming to the offensive line.

But the bottom line as Young and teammates said on Thursday night is execution has to improve across the board.

“We’re better than that,” running back Chuba Hubbard said after being held to 23 yards rushing on nine carries. “We’re way, way better than that. This game kind of tells itself. We’ve got to be able to score points, we’ve got to be able to finish drives, we’ve got to be able to execute at a high level.

“We’re just not doing that.”

Young shoulders much of that, more than Reich and his teammates believe he should.

That’s where the frustration sets in, where the look of shell shock comes from.

“It’s very frustrating,” Young said. “That’s not just me. That’s everyone. We’re competitors. Losing is frustrating. You know, it’s fresh, you feel it. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to turn the page.”

If the Panthers don’t, the ugliness they showcased on Thursday could get uglier in next Sunday’s home game against the Dallas Cowboys, one of the best teams in the NFC.

“Being frustrated, it’s not going to win a game and not going to help,” Young said. “You have to turn that and use that in action throughout the week, and then we have to translate it to Sunday or Thursday. We have to translate that. We care.”

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