Bryce Young goes through growing pains in Panthers’ loss

The rookie quarterback has struggled with deep throws and pressure in his first two NFL games

Panthers quarterback Bryce Young looks to pass while under pressure from Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan during New Orleans’ 20-17 win Monday in Charlotte. (Rusty Jones / AP Photo)

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers’ Monday Night Football game against the Saints was the 31st game of this young NFL season. So far, there have been 15 games where a quarterback passed for 300 yards, meaning that a starting NFL quarterback basically has a one-in-four chance of passing for three bills in a given game.

Through two NFL games as a starter, Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young has thrown for 299 yards, combined.

The list of 300-yard passers includes Baker Mayfield, who started for Carolina for part of last season. It includes two of Young’s predecessors at Alabama — Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones. It also includes CJ Stroud, the rookie who was taken the pick after Young, who went first overall to the Panthers this past spring.

Young was accurate but cautious on Monday night, completing 22 of 33 passes for 153 yards, seldom looking deep downfield. Thirteen of his passes were targeted toward tight ends and running backs. He was 11 of 20 when he took a risk and threw to his wide receivers. The Panthers mustered just three field goals and a late touchdown in a 20-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

The reason for his caution was evident. Young spent much of the night running for his life. He was sacked four times, hit seven times and under pressure far more than that. Still, the first overall pick has not wowed the league in his first two NFL games, both losses to division rivals.

“I can tell you that, certainly, our struggle on offense is not one person,” said Panthers coach Frank Reich. “I thought Bryce did some really positive things, made some plays with his feet, made some good decisions, made some good throws, showed plenty of things that we wanted to see.”

In addition to giving Young a vote of confidence, Reich said that he thought the team was close, inadvertently using the phrase that served as former coach Matt Rhule’s epitaph as the team suffered close loss after close loss during the departed coach’s star-crossed tenure with the team.

“We were struggling a little bit,” he said. “We were behind the sticks. … We hit a couple plays, and things looked good, and I thought we were going to snap out of it, and we just couldn’t seem to do that.”

Reich isn’t ready to give up hope, however.

“I’ve seen it before,” he said. “We’re not far away.”

Unfortunately for him, Panthers fans have seen it before, too, and they greeted another short Young pass, which fell incomplete, with a chorus of boos late in the game.

“I don’t think that’s Bryce,” Reich said. “That’s on me. That’s on our team. That’s part of it. I don’t like it. I’d like to bring the fans wins and an exciting brand of football. That’s what we’re going to do. It’s a process. We’re two games into a 17-game season. Things haven’t gone the way we wanted, but nobody’s throwing in the towel. It’s a long year.”

It will be even longer if the offense doesn’t start taking risks. With the Panthers down two scores, Young and the offense got the ball with 3:14 remaining. Young then led an 11-play drive to produce a touchdown, the only one of the day for the Panthers. The first five passes of the drive were all in the shadow of the line of scrimmage, with single-digit gains. After one deep shot that fell incomplete, Young then handed the ball off, followed by another three short passes.

Just over a minute remained when the Panthers failed to recover the ensuing onside kick, and the Saints were able to run out the clock.

“That’s just on me making sure that, when it’s there, I take advantage of it,” Young said of throwing deep. “Hitting throws, obviously, I have to do a better job of that. There’s down-the-field stuff that gets called, and maybe I don’t get all the way through (his reads). Whatever it is, that’s on me. We’re put into places to execute as a unit, and that’s on me.”

Again, Reich refused to pin it on Young, even as the quarterback was trying to take the blame.

“I know how hard it is to play that position,” Reich, a former quarterback, said. “I’ve been around it a long time. I know how dependent it is on everything. We’ve all got to get better.”

Unfortunately, as the string of 300-yard games indicates, the rest of the league isn’t going to wait around for that to happen.