Missed opportunities plague unprepared Panthers

Carolina drops its season opener against the defending NFC champion Rams

Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore fumbles while Los Angeles Rams inside linebacker Cory Littleton (58) and linebacker Bryce Hager (54) scramble to recover during the first half an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

CHARLOTTE — Late in the first quarter of the Carolina Panthers’ 30-27 opening day loss to the Los Angeles Rams, the Panthers’ offense faced third and 7.

The team huddled at the 29-yard line as the play clock ticked down … 9, 8, 7.

Quarterback Cam Newton ripped off his helmet and walked over to the sideline as the team called its first time out of the half.

It appeared that there was trouble getting Newton the signals through his helmet radio. An assistant ran off with it, presumably to switch out the receiver or find a replacement helmet.

After meeting with coaches for 30 seconds, the team went back out onto the field and huddled up. Again, the clock ticked down. Again Newton stormed toward the sideline, this time getting a 5-yard delay of game penalty.

When play finally resumed, Christian McCaffrey ran the ball into the left side of the line, losing a yard. Boos rained down from the crowd as the field goal unit came out to try a kick that was now 53 yards.

The three points ended up being the difference in the game — the sequence of events that cost the Panthers served as a microcosm of a day when only one team seemed ready for the season to start.

For much of the afternoon, Carolina hung in against the NFC champions despite themselves. At times, the team looked like it needed a few more weeks of training camp.

The discombobulated Panthers had six penalties for 46 yards. That doesn’t include sending 12 men onto the field on defense two plays after the missed field goal — the Rams declined that penalty.

It does include another delay of game on a punt play when the Panthers only sent 10 men onto the field. They quickly rushed rookie Christian Miller on for what would have been his first NFL snap. Instead, the clock ran down and boos again showered the team.

The Panthers also had three turnovers — one interception and two fumbles. DJ Moore lost the ball to end Carolina’s first drive of the game. He then missed a Cam Newton backward pass and appeared to not realize the ball was live, standing and watching as two Rams dove on it at the 10, setting up L.A.’s first touchdown.

“I was going down,” Moore, who struggled with fumbles as a rookie last year, said. “I had two hands on the ball, and then it came up, because he punched it.”

He argued that the ball was deflected on the second play and should have been an incomplete pass.

Outside of the turnovers, Newton and the first team offense looked like they could have used a few more preseason reps. Newton was frequently high and off the mark. He finished 25 of 39 on the day for 239 yards but just 4-of-10 on short, seemingly safe throws to tight ends.

The glitches and setbacks wasted a 128-yard rushing day by Christian McCaffrey, to go with his 10 catches for 81 yards.

“I’m not going to try and make up a storyline,” tight end Greg Olsen said when asked about the lack of preseason work for the ones. “Sometimes there is no reason. There’s not a cause. Sometimes there’s not a ‘What if we did something different on the front end that it would’ve been different.’ Sometimes things just go sideways.”

Sometimes that’s true, but often, things go sideways for a reason. Often, the better prepared team wins, especially in tight games against contenders.

“More than anything else, missed opportunities,” head coach Ron Rivera said.