CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers are looking for their first takeaway — along with their first win — and history suggests New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston could help them solve both problems on Sunday.
Winston has struggled mightily throughout his career versus the Panthers.
He’s 4-6 in 10 appearances vs. Carolina with nearly twice as many interceptions (16) as touchdown passes (nine). He’s been sacked 36 times by the Panthers, turning the ball over eight times on fumbles.
While the majority of his struggles came as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Winston didn’t fare any better wearing a Saints jersey last season as he was limited to 111 yards passing, intercepted twice, and sacked four times in a lopsided 26-7 loss at Carolina.
“Obviously last year (at Carolina) wasn’t a great showing for any of us — offense, defense, kicking game,” said Saints coach Dennis Allen.
“We did not play well when we went out there and I think offensively it was a real challenge in the fact that a majority of the offensive staff was out with COVID in that game.”
The Panthers’ defense failed to get a takeaway in the first two weeks, but their players are well aware of Winston’s habit of turning the ball over and will look to take advantage of it.
“As everybody knows he has a record of throwing picks and we are just looking for one,” said linebacker Frankie Luvu. “When they do come we are going to make the most of it.”
Said Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson: “We know once the floodgates open, they come in bunches. We’re just going to keep working at it.”
Winston, who has been playing with a back injury, is coming off a rough week against Tampa Bay.
He was intercepted three times and was sacked six times in a 20-10 loss with running back Alvin Kamara sidelined with an injury. The Saints were limited to just three points until a late touchdown reception by Michael Thomas.
“I will do a better job of staying mellow in the madness,” Winston said.
As long as Winston is able to play through his back injury, the game will match a pair of QBs, who also were Heisman Trophy winners.
Winston won it in the 2013 season when he led Florida State to a national title. Mayfield, who began his college career as a walk-on at Texas Tech, won his Heisman in 2017 with Oklahoma.
Both quarterbacks also were overall No. 1 draft choices by teams for which they no longer play: Winston in 2015 by Tampa Bay and Mayfield in 2018 by Cleveland.
“I got a lot of respect for Baker, just for the story, being a walk-on and then winning the Heisman,” Winston said. “He plays with a tremendous amount of swag, which is exciting to see as a player.”
Winston was sacked four times at Atlanta in Week 1, and it only got worse in Week 2, when he was sacked six times in a loss to Tampa Bay.
But the quarterback declines to place the blame on his pass protection.
“I felt it was outstanding — both the games,” Winston said. “Our offensive line is solid. I’ve got to do a better job getting the ball out of my hands.”
Allen has agreed to some extent, saying the blocking hasn’t always been on point, but that Winston also was indecisive in the pocket at times.
Allen has placed a renewed emphasis on ball security after seeing the Saints done in by five turnovers in the final 17 minutes of their 20-10 loss to Tampa Bay. The game was tied at 3-3 before the first of those turnovers.
“We have to understand the value and importance of protecting the football,” Allen said. “I know that turnovers are part of this game, they happen, but our whole mindset has to be that we have to limit those mistakes that cost you from winning games.”
CHANGING IT UP
With the Panthers’ passing game looking stale, coach Matt Rhule suggested it might be time to add some wide receivers to the mix.
That means Terrace Marshall Jr. and Rashard Higgins could figure into the game plan this week. So far almost all of the reps have gone to D.J. Moore, Robbie Anderson and Shi Smith, who had two key drops against the New York Giants last week.
“I think we have to start playing more guys at the receiver position,” Rhule said. “I think we want those guys out there; they’re good players for us. But I think Terrace is coming on, Rashard’s a guy we know can play. We just probably need to get those guys on the field more.
“We’ve been no-huddle at times; it’s hard to rotate guys in. Those guys get worn out, those crucial downs, so maybe on those third downs, we’re not playing as fast as we could be playing.”
THIRD DOWN ISSUES
The Panthers’ offense has really struggled on third downs.
Baker Mayfield is just 7 of 14 passing for 54 yards with one interception and no touchdowns and the Panthers have converted just 26.1% of their opportunities as dropped passes, penalties and down-and-distance issues have all led to the lack of production.
“I don’t know what our conversion percent on third down was but it wasn’t very good,” Mayfield said. “Getting down there and getting field goals instead of touchdowns in the red zone. That will kill us.”