CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers knew there’d be some growing pains with rookie quarterback Bryce Young.
They didn’t have to wait long to feel them.
Young was 20 of 38 for 146 yards passing and one touchdown in his NFL debut, but also threw two interceptions leading to 10 Atlanta points in a 24-10 road loss to the Falcons on Sunday.
Despite those costly turnovers, Panthers coach Frank Reich said Monday he felt Young “played well” overall after analyzing the game film. Reich took blame for Young's first interception, saying he put the No. 1 overall pick in “a bad position” by failing to get the play call in on time — resulting in a delay of game penalty — just before the turnover.
Reich also indicated there was a mix-up on Young's second interception.
It's pretty clear the Panthers, who finished 29th in the league in passing last season, have a long way to go in that area. They had no “chunk plays” down the field with Young's longest reception going for 14 yards.
However, Reich said Young made some good decisions too, throwing the ball away several times to avoid a negative play and scrambling on one occasion to pick up a first down.
Falcons defensive back Jessie Bates III, who had both picks on Young, said he took advantage of the Panthers conservative approach to the passing game with a rookie at quarterback.
“I feel like I had a good feel for what they wanted to do,” Bates said. "That they had to get him comfortable, they want to get the ball out quick, kick the ball inside the hashes, so I kind of took advantage of that.”
Reich said he believes Young will get better, adding “there’s not another guy I want to work with.”
Young did not get much help from what is looking like a suspect wide receiving group that played without deep threat DJ Chark because of a hamstring injury.
Carolina's four wide receivers who saw playing time combined for just eight catches and 68 yards with no touchdowns, appearing to struggle to get separation at times.
Tight end Hayden Hurst was the primary option for Young with five receptions for 41 yards and a touchdown, as checkdowns were a big part of the passing game with a rookie QB making his first start on the road.
The Panthers actually ran the ball well, picking up where they left off late last season. Miles Sanders tallied 72 yards on 18 carries and Chuba Hubbard added 60 yards on nine runs as the Panthers finished with 154 yards on the ground. However, Sanders did have a fumble that led to a Falcons field goal. Overall, Sanders looked fast and shifty, accounting for 98 yards of offense on 22 touches.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Panthers switched to a 3-4 defense this offseason under new coordinator Ejiro Evero, and one of the vulnerabilities with that scheme can be the run game.
That was the case on Sunday as the Falcons racked up 131 yards and two touchdowns on the ground on 25 carries. Atlanta had two carries of longer than 20 yards.
Reich said he's not overly concerned about the run defense.
“They have a dynamic run game," Reich said of the Falcons. “They are going to have some explosive runs.”
On the flip side, Carolina's pass defense had four sacks and limited Desmond Ridder to just 115 yards passing.
The Panthers weren't sure if Brian Burns would even play on Sunday because of ongoing contract talks with the team. Burns, who is in the final year of a $16 million rookie contract while awaiting a huge payday, elected to play on Sunday rather than forfeit a $900,000 game check. He proved his worth right away, coming up with a sack and a tackle for a loss in the backfield on third down plays to force the Falcons to punt on their first two possessions. Burns later shared another sack, proving again why he is still the team's best defensive player.
Burns admitted he thought about not playing.
“I am just trying to take the next step in my game, and I want to dominate,” Burns said. “Coming into the first quarter, that is all that was on my mind and that was to dominate.”
Adam Thielen was brought into be the team's No. 1 receiver to replace D.J. Moore, but the 33-year-old managed just 12 yards on two receptions in his Carolina debut and certainly wasn't the focal point of the passing game. He was targeted just twice. Thielen ran one nice route that could have resulted in a big play. However, he working with a rookie quarterback and was limited last week with an ankle injury, which may have affected his performance.
The Panthers lost starting cornerback Jaycee Horn to a hamstring injury. Horn was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2021 draft and has the potential to be one of the top cover men in the league if he can stay healthy.
The problem is he's already missed 18 games of 34 because of injuries over his first two seasons and now may miss even more.
17 — Falcons points off Carolina's three turnovers.
The Panthers host the New Orleans Saints on “Monday Night Football” on Sept. 18.
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