NFL

Rivera says struggling Panthers lack consistency

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)

(Eds: With AP Photos.)By STEVE REEDAP Sports Writer

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Monday his team needs to start playing more consistent football before it's too late.

The Panthers are 1-3 for the third straight year under Rivera and run the risk of falling out of playoff contention early just as they did the last two seasons when they began 1-5 and 1-6.

Cam Newton turned the ball over four times, was sacked seven times and the Panthers committed 11 penalties in a sloppy 22-6 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. That defeat came just two weeks after a lopsided 38-0 win over the New York Giants.

Rivera, who remains on the hot seat, says lack of consistency in the first quarter of the season has been ''frustrating.''

''Because of what we can be - or what we should be,'' Rivera said. ''But the truth of the matter is you are what your record says and that's what is frustrating because I really don't believe we're a 1-3 football team.''

It's been a struggle this season for the entire offense.

Carolina has scored only three touchdowns in its three defeats.

Newton's QB rating ranks 24th in the league and he's turned the ball over six times.

Rivera said it would be unfair to pin it all on the third-year quarterback, pointing out wide receiver Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell both dropped key passes on Sunday and the protection - the offensive line has allowed 15 sacks - has not been up to par.

Carolina's offensive line woes only got worse Monday when Rivera announced that starting left guard Amini Silatolu tore the ACL in his right knee and is out for the season. The Panthers lost starting right guard Garry Williams for the season in week one.

Smith said Monday he felt like he cost his team the game by dropping a pass on a slant route in the end zone in the first quarter. He also said players need to realize the sense of urgency at hand.

''We have to improve, we have to be consistent - like tomorrow,'' Smith said. ''We have to do it immediately.''

Rivera said at some point players need to start making plays.

''When you get consistent and do things consistent, that's when you win,'' Rivera said.

Rivera, who won a Super Bowl ring playing linebacker for the Chicago Bears in 1985, said he's been on teams that could just show up and win.

''We're not there,'' Rivera said.

Still, he expects more from his team.

''We're a young football in some respects - and in other respects we should have arrived by now,'' Rivera said. ''What we have to do is eliminate those types of mistakes. If you want to win football games you can't have those types of mistakes on a consistent basis.''

The Panthers felt like they were on the right path after their blowout win over the Giants before the bye week.

Any momentum from that win has evaporated.

''We're not going to sob or get beside ourselves and go in our shells,'' Newton said after Sunday's loss. ''... We have to play with a sense of urgency, but at the same time, we still have opportunities. Our future is still bright.''

The Panthers still have time to make up for the slow start with winnable games upcoming against Minnesota (1-3), Tampa Bay (0-4) and St. Louis (2-3).

Newton said that while there is no sense of panic in the locker room, he acknowledged the turnaround needs to happen soon.

Panthers linebacker Chase Blackburn also called the called the situation ''frustrating'' but said if funneled in the right way the Panthers can use it to their advantage moving forward.

The Panthers visit the Vikings this Sunday.

''When you're at where we're at right now, sitting at 1-3, you have to be frustrated,'' Blackburn said. ''If you're not then there's a lot of things going wrong in your head, and you're not a competitor. I think we have a lot of competitors in this locker room. It's OK to be frustrated, you just have to handle it the right way, and I think we will.''

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AP NFL website www.pro32.ap.org

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Follow Steve Reed on Twitter: http://twitter.com/SteveReedAP

Tagged: Panthers, Steve Smith Sr., Cam Newton

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