“We want to execute at a high level,” Young said. “And that wasn’t what happened today. I take responsibility for that. That’s on me, first and foremost.”
The Panthers managed just 187 yards in their first game since Reich took over play-calling duties.
“It’s very frustrating,” Reich said. “You work hard, and you believe in the guys you’re doing it with. And I believe in our coaches and players. Not getting the results you want is frustrating. So I’m frustrated most of all for them. But I’m certainly frustrated for the fans as well.”
Reich is a first-year coach in Carolina who, increasingly, does not seem guaranteed to have a Year 2 with his new team and his developing quarterback.
“You want it to happen overnight,” Reich said. “Sometimes it takes longer than you want. But you have to keep your head down, be strong-willed, keep the vision clear, come to work every day. And you’ve got to be able to fight your way through the tough times.”
Reich said his belief in Young is unwavering.
“I’m very encouraged and optimistic about a lot of things and who he is and the player he is,” Reich said. “He can make every throw, how he processes it, how he’s handling a difficult season so far. I really respect the way he’s handling himself and fighting through it.”
The Panthers had their choice of the quarterbacks available in this year’s draft when they traded up to obtain the No. 1 pick from the Chicago Bears. Their choices were Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson. The Panthers went with Young, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama, despite concerns some draft analysts had raised about his modest physical stature. The Houston Texans took Stroud second; Richardson went fourth to the Indianapolis Colts.
Stroud has become an immediate star with the Texans, playing his way into the MVP conversation as his team vies for a playoff berth. Richardson provided glimpses of being a potential standout before undergoing shoulder surgery that probably ended his rookie season with the greatly improved Colts. It has been a nonstop struggle for Young in Carolina.
“It’s hard circumstances,” he said Sunday. “But that’s part of the business.”
Said Reich: “I think he’s made to handle stuff like this. And I don’t think he’ll accept it. And I think he’ll continue to elevate his game and elevate this team. It’s taking longer than we all wanted it to. But I can tell you: It’s not on his shoulders. We all have a part in it.”
The Panthers’ lone victory came last month against the Texans, when Young threw for 235 yards and a touchdown and actually outplayed Stroud. But that encouraging moment has been accompanied by plenty of strife. Young entered Sunday’s play as the NFL’s 29th-rated passer.
There is no way to know for certain whether these are agonizing growing pains on the way to eventual success or early warning signs that the Panthers chose the wrong quarterback.
“[Stroud] certainly looks like a great player,” a high-ranking official with one team said on the condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to publicly discuss other team’s players. “He’s a great player right now. There’s no projection involved in that, with how he’s played. I’m not ready to make a judgment yet about [Young]. He hasn’t played well. But the circumstances aren’t good, either. Let’s see.”
Indeed, the team around Young is lacking. Former NFL player, scout and front-offensive executive Louis Riddick, now an analyst for ESPN, wrote Sunday on social media: “They are going to get Bryce Young hurt in Carolina with that [offensive line] … awful.”
They are going to get Bryce Young hurt in Carolina with that OL… awful
— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) November 19, 2023
It’s rarely a good sign when a coach praises his quarterback’s ability to absorb jarring hits.
“One of the questions about Bryce coming in was, with his size and weighing under 200 pounds and being 5-10, could he take it? And I think he’s answered that question week in and week out,” Reich said. “He physically is one tough dude.”
The offense also has a scarcity of playmakers around Young. The Panthers traded their best wide receiver, DJ Moore, to the Bears in the deal for the top pick.
Panthers owner David Tepper hired Reich, whom the Colts fired last season, in January to oversee his team’s rebuild. But already there is speculation that the Panthers’ on-field woes are testing Tepper’s patience enough to put Reich’s job in jeopardy.
Reich took over play-calling duties last week from offensive coordinator Thomas Brown. And he acknowledged Friday that the Panthers had practiced their silent count on offense in anticipation of Cowboys fans filling a large portion of the stadium.
That was prescient. Cowboys fans were everywhere. They cheered when the Cowboys took the field. They cheered when Cowboys star pass rusher Micah Parsons got the first of his 2.5 sacks on the day to end the Panthers’ opening possession. They cheered when Parsons sacked Young again to end the Panthers’ second drive. In between, they cheered when Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott threw a first-quarter touchdown pass to rookie tight end Luke Schoonmaker.
Prescott added a touchdown pass to wide receiver CeeDee Lamb in the final minute of the second quarter, on a drive aided by two personal fouls committed by the Carolina defense. The Cowboys led 17-3 at halftime. The Panthers briefly made it interesting when Young threw a four-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tommy Tremble late in the third quarter to cap a drive that included three fourth-down conversions.
But the Cowboys reasserted control with a fourth-quarter touchdown run by tailback Tony Pollard. They sealed the outcome when cornerback DaRon Bland grabbed a pass by Young intended for wide receiver Jonathan Mingo and raced 30 yards to the end zone. It was Bland’s fourth touchdown this season on an interception return, matching the single-season NFL record. The Cowboys won their second straight game and improved to 7-3. They’ll host the Washington Commanders on Thanksgiving.
And the Panthers will keep moving toward … what, exactly? That’s uncertain at this point.
“That’s a really good defense,” Young said. “But … we want to be a great offense. Obviously we know we have a ways to go.”