CHARLOTTE -- The Carolina Panthers knew they were going to have to live on defense. They did.
They knew they needed to not only continue to create turnovers, but also turn them into points. They did.
It still didn't matter, as, saddled with an inept offense, they dropped a 20-13 decision to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
"It wasn't good enough because we lost," defensive end Mike Rucker said. "I don't know what to tell you."
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There wasn't much to say. The Panthers' defense created the only touchdown of the day, with Ken Lucas taking a fumble 27 yards for a score, giving the Panthers a hope they could stay in the game no matter how bad the other side was playing.
But by the end of the day, the Falcons had too many chances, capitalized on just enough, and left a side that should have been enjoying another good effort wondering what happened.
"We did a couple things, but we could have done more," Lucas said. "We allowed 20 points on defense, so we didn't do too great. So we can't be patting ourselves on the back like we just played a hell of a game. There have been games where defenses shut teams out. We didn't do that, we allowed 20 points. Most of the time you allow 20 points in this league, you lose.
"We've got to do a better job on defense to help this team win, because defense does win games."
It's going to have to here, because the offense simply doesn't appear to be coming.
"It's very small, we know," safety Chris Harris said of the Panthers' margin of error. "It's evident, our offense is not playing great. I'm not calling anybody out or anything, but as a defense, that's what you do. If we were giving up 30 points a game we'd expect the offense to score 33 points a game.
"It's a give-take in this sport. You've got to be a team. This is a team. That's what teams do. We could get them more turnovers, get them the ball back more. That's how I feel, that's the way I play this game."
Having played through a near-mutiny in Chicago under similar circumstances, Harris just shook his head when asked how to avoid a schism in the locker room.
"We've got to circle the wagons, we've got to rally the troops and get things figured out," Harris said. "Pretty much, the defense is going to have to step up."
The topic was reasonably sensitive in the locker room. When defensive tackle Kris Jenkins was asked, he replied: "I support my offense. Next question."
Of course, the defense wasn't perfect. It allowed the late drive that culminated in Alge Crumpler's untouched 30-yard touchdown, which came when the Panthers blitzed everyone, and Harris' path to Crumpler was blocked by umpire Bruce Stritesky.
Coach John Fox shrugged when asked about that play, since it would have led to an easy field goal attempt even if Crumpler didn't walk into the end zone.
"We got put in a tough spot, when you get right down to it," Fox said. "Whether it was 16-13 or 20-13, they're in field goal range, and we were playing very aggressively. I think we got picked by the umpire, and you saw the result."