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Panthers continue to make mistakes only bad teams make

MINNEAPOLIS -- Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen admittedly doesn't know much about the punt protection that suffered two colossal collapses in Sunday's 31-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, but he knows a good football team when he sees one.

And the Panthers, as Olsen so bluntly put it, are not that.

"It sucks," Olsen said after Carolina lost its sixth straight game. "There's really no other way to put it. Every adjective you can come up with, it's that. Right now, we're not very good."

On a frigid day when the Panthers (3-8-1) needed to play perfectly in every phase to keep pace in the wacky NFC South, they became the first team since 1975 to give up two blocked punts for a touchdown in one half.

In this case, those touchdowns put the Panthers in a 21-3 hole that never gave them a realistic chance to win.

"I don't know if I've ever seen it happen twice in a game," Olsen said.

He seemed shell-shocked.

"It is disappointing," coach Ron Rivera said. "You can't give up plays early in a game and expect to be in a game."

The special-teams breakdowns weren't schematic and, according to Rivera, had nothing to do with poor coaching.

"Individuals got beat up and under, an individual turned the wrong way," Rivera said. "It had nothing to do with the protection. Individuals got beat."

Panthers linebacker Ben Jacobs took full responsibility for the second one, when Jasper Brinkley came off the left side basically untouched for the block. Defensive end Everson Griffen did the rest, returning the block 43 yards to make it 21-3 with 9:35 left in the half.

"I just needed to get more depth," Jacobs said. "That's what it comes down to. I didn't get the necessary depth, and it showed. It's deflating to happen once, but twice ...

"As special teams you have to be contributors. I can only speak for myself, but I did not contribute as much as I would like to today."

On the first block, the pressure came right up the middle from wide receiver Adam Thielen, who recovered and returned it 30 yards for the touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

Deep-snapper J.J. Jansen wasn't sure exactly what happened, saying, "Without looking at it, I am not going to say it was me or another person."

It doesn't matter. It continued a trend in which there continued to be breakdowns in different phases to put the Panthers behind early and take them out of their game plan.

Two games ago, Carolina had a fumble on its first possession, an interception on its second, and then surrendered a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown to dig an early 17-7 hole against Philadelphia. There was an interception returned for a touchdown right before halftime to make it 31-7.

In its last non-loss, Carolina gave up a 97-yard kickoff return after taking a 31-24 lead against Cincinnati. That set up a 3-yard touchdown to tie the game that ultimately ended in an overtime tie.

In a 28-10 loss to New Orleans, the Panthers had a first-half fumble at their own 4-yard line that led to a 7-0 Saints lead.

Mistakes. Good teams don't make them.

The Panthers, as Olsen admitted under the pretense they are in a playoff race, are not a good team.

It's time to stop talking about keeping pace with Atlanta and New Orleans in the division and figuring out how to score first-half touchdowns -- the Panthers have only six all season -- and how to stop making mistakes that puts the team in constant catch-up mode.

"Right now, we've just got to win a game," Olsen said. "All that other stuff, playoff talk, we're still in it ... yeah, I get it.

"But that's irrelevant right now. We've got to find a way to win a game. Just one game, and get things back to square [one] a little bit. That's got to be our No. 1 objective."