The Carolina Panthers have gone from one of the best teams in the NFL at 6-2 to now being one of the most frustrated at 6-7 coming off a loss against the Cleveland Browns on the road Sunday.
"I didn't expect this. We had high expectations for this season," safety Mike Adams said following Carolina's 26-20 loss to the Browns, increasing the Panthers' losing streak to five games. "Unfortunately, it hasn't been going our way. The only people we can blame are ourselves."
The beginning of the Panthers' tailspin was a 52-21 blowout loss at Pittsburgh on Nov. 8.
"Things happen," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "Your plans don't always work out how you want them to."
Carolina is a team now that wants one win to get back on track instead of being a contender that could win it all.
"To be honest with you, I don't feel like there is a loss of confidence or anything. We're just not putting a good product on the field," Peppers said. "We felt like we were going to win today, we felt we were going to win last week. We feel like we can win every game.
"So it's not for lack of confidence. It's just a lack of execution."
Each of the last four losses have been decided by a touchdown or less, which means the Panthers are not executing when they need to the most down the stretch.
"We're not able to close out games," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "To continue to lose by a touchdown or less is just extremely frustrating. We're in position to win games and we're just not coming away with it.
"We haven't finished for the last freaking month, and it's cost us."
Added running back Christian McCaffrey: "It's kind of an 'us against the world' feeling. We have just us right now."
They Panthers, still technically alive in the NFC Wild Card race, return home for a Monday Night Football game against the New Orleans Saints, who are 11-2.
A Carolina-New Orleans matchup five weeks ago looked intriguing in terms of NFC supremacy. The teams meet twice in the last three weeks of the season.
The Panthers are still clinging to the hope they can turn their season around.
"There is no quit in this team, and as one of the veteran players, I better not see it," Davis said. "Not gonna happen around here."
Peppers said, "Nothing else matters right now besides getting a win next week. That's where we at. ... There is really nowhere else to turn."
--QB Cam Newton finished 26-of-42 for 265 yards and one interception against Cleveland. He wasn't responsible for a touchdown for the first time since Week 1.
--TE Ian Thomas got his first start since Week 5 (after Greg Olsen was lost for the rest of the year in Week 13) and he caught a career-best nine passes for 77 yards.
--LB Luke Kuechly led the Panthers with 11 tackles and he forced two fumbles, both recovered by fellow LB Thomas Davis.
--WR Curtis Samuel played a career-high 93 percent of the snaps. He tallied 80 receiving yards on four catches and has averaged 84.0 receiving yards over the last two weeks.
--WR Devin Funchess played only 39 percent of the snaps, his fewest since the end of the 2016 season.