CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule has to be ready to pull his hair out.
Every week he preaches to his players in meetings — and to the media in news conferences — that for the Panthers to win they have to take care of the football and not turn it over.
And yet, time and time again the costly interceptions and fumbles seem to come back to haunt them.
The Panthers (5-8) have turned over the ball 18 times in their eight losses this season, including three on Sunday in a mistake-filled 29-21 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. By contrast, Carolina has only five turnovers in its five wins this season.
“It’s real simple, you look at the games when we win the turnover battle or tie it, we usually win,” Rhule said. “When we don’t win the turnover battle, we lose. That’s where we are. That’s where most teams are, to be quite honest, but that is definitely where we are.”
The Panthers’ 23 giveaways are tied for third most in the league and they’ve now lost eight of their last 10 games, essentially playing themselves out of playoff contention.
Cam Newton had two costly turnovers on Sunday, including a pick-6 in the first half and a fumbled handoff exchange on a second-and-1 play in the second half that led directly to 13 Atlanta points. Backup quarterback P.J. Walker, who had a role in the game plan, also threw an interception.
“Bad things happen in games, but you can’t let them be catastrophic,” Rhule said.
Rhule said Newton’s two turnovers were just that — catastrophic.
“I’m just so disappointed in myself,” Newton said after the game. “I hold myself to a high standard. … To kind of jeopardize the game the way I did today is inexcusable knowing that I do know the keys to victory.
“I do know that coach was going to allow me to put us in the right situations, and more times than not I didn’t do it,” Newton added. “That is professional football where if it is play one, play 30, play 60 or play 80, you have to constantly do your job and do it at a high level.”
Despite Newton’s struggles and replacing him with Walker twice during the game — part of which was the game plan heading into Week 14 — Rhule said he plans to stick with Newton next week at Buffalo.
“I’m not going to make huge statements,” Rhule said. “I don’t have any strong feelings one way or another, other than I know we have to play better at that position. We can’t have multiple turnover games from the quarterback position.”
Added Newton: “If you take those turnovers away it would be a different type of (mood) right here, right now.”
Rhule said he thought the turnovers overshadowed a pretty solid day by Jeff Nixon, who took over the team’s play-calling duties this week after offensive coordinator Joe Brady.
The Panthers used an up-tempo, no-huddle approach on their first drive to go 65 yards for a touchdown, and Carolina scored three touchdowns.
“I thought the tempo was good, I thought we moved the ball and we completed more balls to the guys that we have,” Rhule said. “I think we were more diverse and guys played with energy. So a pick-6 is one thing, but three turnovers is obviously a whole different thing.”