Bob Leverone, Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Panthers continue to lose leads and games.
But Sunday's setback against the Minnesota Vikings was big.
Carolina coach Ron Rivera tried to console kicker Olindo Mare after everyone else had cleared out of the Panthers locker room Sunday, walking through with his arm around Mare's shoulder.
Mare had blown a chip shot that pretty much summed up how Carolina's season has gone.
Mare's missed a potential game-tying 31-yard field goal with 26 seconds left resulting in a costly 24-21 defeat the Minnesota. It was the fifth time this season the Panthers (2-6) lost a game in which they either led or were tied in the fourth quarter
A win and the Panthers would be 3-5 heading into the bye week with a chance to build on two-game win streak and Tennessee looming on Nov. 13. Instead, they're 2-6 heading into the bye with a bitter taste in their mouths.
"I think there's a lot of frustration right now," Rivera said.
Nobody was more frustrated than Mare, who called his miss "inexcusable."
He's trying to replace fan favorite John Kasay, who played 16 seasons for the club before being unexpectedly released this offseason. Outside of Sunday's miss, Mare had converted 13 of 15 field goal attempts, but this was his first with the game on the line.
"I let the team down, the coaches down, the fans down, everybody," Mare said. "Obviously I didn't do my job."
Mare's teammates rallied to his defense.
Quarterback Cam Newton said anyone who thinks Mare cost the Panthers the game is a "fool."
Newton pointed to the three straight second-half possessions where the Panthers went three-and-out.
Tackle Jordan Gross talked about the critical sack-fumble he gave up to defensive end Jared Allen that led to a Vikings touchdown.
And linebacker James Anderson lamented the defense's inability to get off the field on third down against Vikings rookie quarterback Christian Ponder, who beat the Panthers in just his second NFL start.
"Olindo is a hell of a kicker and I would bet my last dollar every time in that situation," Newton said. "He makes that 99 percent of the time."
A win would have given the Panthers back-to-back victories for the first time since 2009 and at least kept them in the conversation when it came to playoff talk. Instead they're four games under .500 with tough schedule that includes Detroit, Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans and Tampa Bay twice.
They have two weeks to think about what could have been — not just this week, but all season.
"It's been like (the movie) Groundhog Day around here," tight end Greg Olsen said of the team's uncanny ability to lose games late.
Rivera is trying to stay upbeat with a young team, making sure the Panthers don't fall into the mode of simply playing out the string in the second half of the season.
"We will see how they react tomorrow (because) what's going to define us is how we handle this situation and come back and get ready to play," Rivera said.
Gross, for one, believes the Panthers could use a bye.
The Panthers have been hit hard by injuries all year, particularly at linebacker. They lost two more on Sunday with Jason Phillips injuring his calf and Thomas Williams his neck.
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