CHARLOTTE — Carolina Panthers linebacker Frankie Luvu nearly gifted himself an early birthday present last Sunday.
The fifth-year player, who turned 26 years old on Monday, dropped what likely would’ve been a pick-six late in the second quarter of the Panthers’ 19-16 loss to the Giants.
New York quarterback Daniel Jones lofted a sideline throw directly toward Luvu with the game tied 6-6. But the ball floated abnormally long, Luvu mistimed his jump and Jones’ pass sailed through Luvu’s outstretched hands and out of bounds.
“The Carolina Panthers have to win the turnover battle to win, like every team that’s in the NFL,” Coach Matt Rhule said on Monday. “If you lose the turnover battle, you’re probably going to have a hard time. And we overcame it.”
Rhule is right. For the second consecutive week, the Panthers lost the turnover battle yet still found a way to grab a late fourth-quarter lead.
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The Panthers handed the Giants six points off two fumbles. Chuba Hubbard coughed up the opening kickoff, and, a few series later, receiver Robbie Anderson fumbled after catching a screen pass. New York capitalized on a short field both times. The Giants’ first two scoring drives covered a combined 29 yards on 17 plays and resulted in six points.
Near interception aside, Luvu had a career game against New York. He recorded a team-high 10 solo tackles and played a career-high 70 snaps. His four tackles for loss were also a career-high, considering he recorded 8 TFLs all last season.
But Rhule wants turnovers.
The team hasn’t taken the ball away through two games. Carolina is turnover-less in six straight games dating to last season. The Panthers were tied for 31st in the league last year with a negative-19 turnover differential and were bottom five in takeaways with just 16.
Like most everything else with Carolina, the defense has been close to taking the ball away. Safety Myles Hartsfield in Week 1 dropped a potential interception on a pass from Cleveland QB Jacoby Brissett.
The Panthers entered the season emphasizing turnover creation. Defensive backs coach Steve Wilks installed new zone coverages to complement defensive coordinator Phil Snow, according to Rhule.
“In previous years, we played more match-zone coverage,” Rhule said. “Bringing Steve (Wilks) in, we went to more zone-eyes coverage. … We have tried to adjust parts of our scheme to play the football. We just haven’t come down with it yet.”
Panthers defensive back Donte Jackson is confident that once the first turnover happens, more will follow.
“Once we get that one, and once we get those two, they are going to keep coming,” Jackson said. “We trust and believe that, so we are just going to keep working.”
Jackson is dealing with a hamstring injury that he suffered late in the game Sunday when defending a vertical route by Giants receiver Sterling Shepherd. He considers himself day-to-day but acknowledged he will be in the trainers room “all week.” He also said he is “hopeful” he’ll play Sunday against the Saints.
- Rhule said Jackson had an MRI on Monday. Jackson said the test results were encouraging.
- The Panthers believe they are a resilient group. Rhule referenced the 2020 team that started 0-2 before winning three straight.
- The team could change starting kick returners by Sunday. Rhule said Hubbard’s spot is “up for debate” after his two kickoff return fumbles.
- It’s been nearly a month since Carolina traded for receiver Laviska Shenault. He has been a healthy inactive each of the past two. weeks. Rhule said he is optimistic Shenault will make his Panthers debut Sunday.
- Receiver Rashard Higgins has yet to log an offensive snap for Carolina. Rhule said, “I think we need to start playing more guys at the receiver position.”
- Defensive tackle Baravvion Roy did not finish the game Sunday after leaving with a hamstring injury. Rhule said Roy’s injury looked “pretty severe.”