EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — While many are wondering how much longer Matt Rhule is going to remain the coach of the Carolina Panthers, he insists the team is close to turning things around.
The Panthers had their losing streak stretch to nine games on Sunday when they dropped a 19-16 decision to the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.
It was their second close loss this season, coming on the heels of a 26-24 setback to the Cleveland Browns on a late 58-yard field goal.
Carolina lost this one because it spotted New York and coach Brian Daboll six early points on a couple of fumbles — one of the opening kickoff — and then allowed the Giants to drive 47 yards for a go-ahead field goal by Graham Gano with 3:34 to play.
The bottom line was the Giants made a few more plays, especially in clutch situations. Baker Mayfield and the Panthers were 2 of 12 on third down.
“They’re trying, they’re grinding, they’re working,” said Rhule, who is 10-25 in his third season. “They left it all on the field today but we are coming up a play or two short. I know how frustrated they are.”
Rhule knows the pressure is on, especially starting a three-game homestand next weekend with contests against New Orleans, Arizona and San Francisco followed by a trip to Los Angeles to face the Super Bowl champion Rams.
“We’re close. I believe that with all my heart,” the 47-year-old said. “We haven’t found a way to get it done. That’s my job, to help us get over that last hump. It’s the hardest part. We haven’t done it yet and didn’t do it today.”
Carolina got a great effort from its defense. After allowing Cleveland to rush for 217 yards, the unit limited New York to 103 yards rushing. The Giants had a league-high 238 yards against Tennessee with Saquon Barkley leading the way with 164.
Barkley was held to 72 yards on 21 carries, but he had consecutive runs of 10 and 8 yards to start the go-ahead drive.
Christian McCaffrey also stepped up for Carolina, rushing for 102 yards. His long run of 49 yards set up Eddy Pineiro's third field goal, which tied the game at 16 with 10:46 to play.
The Panthers didn't score again. They got the ball back after Gano's fourth field goal. Mayfield hit McCaffrey with a 10-yard pass and Carolina got a 7-yard gain and another first down on a pass-interference penalty.
With a first down at its own 42, Mayfield connected with McCaffrey for 4 yards, threw an incompletion and then was sacked by safety Julian Love, forcing the Panthers to punt.
New York then ran out the clock after Daniel Jones scrambled on third down for 11 yards and a first down.
Mayfield, who was 14 of 29 for 145 yards and a TD, said the Panthers' failure to convert third downs was the difference.
“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. You look back at that. That will kill us.”
The Panthers still have 15 more games to go. Whether Rhule will be there for all of them is in question.
“We have to settle in and believe what we’re capable of and just go execute,” Mayfield said. “It comes down to execution on Sundays.”
If that doesn't improve, Mayfield's time in Carolina may be short, too.
Safety Jeremy Chinn said the Panthers have to keep working.
“Can’t be too discouraged,” he said. “One day we will look back at today and this time and have a lot of answers and learn a lot from it. We got everything we need in this locker room and trust these guys in here.”
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