- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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He did drop a short touchdown pass on Carolina's first drive that could have set a different tone, maybe led to a different outcome, which prompted him to begin and end his postgame availability with: "Blame the loss on me. I'm the scapegoat.''
But there was plenty of blame to go around with this debacle.
• Quarterback Cam Newton threw three interceptions, fumbled once -- it would have been twice had it not been for a quick whistle from the official -- and held the ball too long, contributing to him being sacked seven times.
He did have one more tackle than starting defensive end Charles Johnson, who had one. But that's not a good thing considering Newton was atoning for his own mistakes.
• The offensive line, as mentioned, gave up seven sacks, including one for a safety. The inconsistency left Newton under duress most of the day and kept the unit from developing any kind of rhythm.
• Wide receiver Brandon LaFell dropped a first down and potentially more on a perfectly thrown fourth-and-1 pass from the Arizona 15 with the score tied at 3-3 in the second quarter. Like Smith's drop, it could have helped change the direction of the game.
• Defensive end Greg Hardy, who had three sacks in his last outing and was named the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week, didn't have a sack against a second-year tackle making his first start.
I could go on, but you get the picture.
This mess was a team effort.
And Smith shouldn't be the scapegoat.
"Our inconsistency is our biggest problem, not necessarily the teams we're going against," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "We have trouble completing drives, blocking for the quarterback or scoring touchdowns."
Carolina is 1-3. You've probably read this one or two times before, but it is worth noting again. Not since 2008 has the team won twice during the first four games.
The Panthers started 1-6 in 2012, 1-5 in 2011, 1-12 in 2010, 1-3 in 2009.
There is a trend here, folks.
"Unfortunately, we've been here before,'' Gross said. "The last two years have been similar to this. Then we end up winning games at the end, so I don't worry about guys quitting. We've got to figure out how to win games in October.
"Not winning now and then winning in December doesn't do you much good."
This was supposed to be, as coach Ron Rivera said the past two weeks after a 38-0 victory over the New York Giants, a catalyst. This was supposed to be when the Panthers turned all their misfortune into a string of wins.
Instead, it was more of the same.
Rivera likely will get blamed by many, but this wasn't his fault. The game plan was fine. The execution was poor.
As usual, the defense played well enough for the team to win, but even it made more than its fair share of mistakes.
"We gave up a couple of silly plays,'' Rivera said. "We weren't where we were supposed [to be], the running back bounces outside and goes for big yards. You can't do that. You just cannot do that. When you do, you give opportunities, and that's what happened.''
And then it got ugly.
"It'll make you tough being on this team,'' Gross said. "Man, we get so close and then we have a mishap here and there. Yeah, it is tough."
Yeah, it was nice of Smith to take the blame, but the list of scapegoats is much longer than one.
"You just have to make plays, especially in critical situations and circumstances," Rivera said. "There's a lot of things that we have to correct, and there's a lot of blame to go around for everybody."
9hEric D. Williams