CINCINNATI (AP) — Just when the Carolina Panthers’ season seemed as if it couldn’t get any worse, they played the worst first half in team history — and another change at quarterback may be in their future.
Facing a Cincinnati Bengals team playing on a short week after its own embarrassing 32-13 loss on Monday night at Cleveland, Carolina (2-7) went into halftime trailing 35-0 — the largest intermission deficit in franchise history — before scoring three garbage-time touchdowns and losing 42-21.
The team’s previous largest halftime deficit was 32-0 at New Orleans in Week 17 of the 2019 season on the way to a 42-10 loss.
“I really can’t pinpoint what happened,” said interim Carolina coach Steve Wilks, who took over when Matt Rhule was fired on Oct. 10. “We’ve got to do a better job of getting them ready.”
P.J. Walker went 3 for 10 for 9 yards with two interceptions in the first half before being relieved by early-season starter Baker Mayfield, who led the Panthers to a touchdown on their first possession of the second half.
“I’m just not sure what happened,” Walker said. “Things just weren’t going my way.”
Carolina generated 32 yards of offense in the first half while giving up 311.
Carolina’s defense not only allowed Bengals running back Joe Mixon to rush for 153 yards and set a franchise record by scoring five touchdowns, it generated virtually no pressure on Joe Burrow against an offensive line that had yielded 29 sacks in Cincinnati’s first eight games. The Panthers sacked Burrow once.
Mixon had scored three touchdowns over the Bengals’ first eight games. He had that many by halftime on Sunday.
“Give credit to him,” Wilks said. “He’s a good running back. They have a good offense. We didn’t help ourselves.”
Carolina also committed six of its seven penalties before halftime. The Panthers were whistled five times in the first half for offsides. The Bengals declined three.
“That’s just being undisciplined,” Wilks said. “You’ve got to make sure you’re behind the line. That’s inexcusable.”
Speaking of short weeks, Carolina hosts NFC South rival Atlanta on Thursday. The Panthers lost 37-34 in overtime at Atlanta on October 30.
Sunday’s start was Walker’s fourth straight in place of Mayfield, whose three second-half scoring drives could put him back in the mix for the job.
“I don’t want to get into that,” Mayfield said. “I just want to win. That’s not my decision.”
Also back in the quarterback picture is Sam Darnold, who is due to be activated by Tuesday. Darnold hasn’t played this year because of a high ankle sprain.
“I couldn’t tell you right now,” Wilks said about Thursday’s starter. “We’ve got a short week. It’s a quick turnaround. We’ll get back tonight and get into the building and get to work.”