A closer look at why Panthers are 1-4 on the road, in state of 'shock'

The Steelers' T.J. Watt hits Cam Newton and knocks the ball loose during a painful night for the Panthers quarterback. Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Missed opportunities. Critical mistakes. Run fit.

These are things Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera cited consistently after almost every loss this season, particularly on the road where his team is 1-4 heading into Sunday's game at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1 p.m. ET, Fox).

The breakdowns away from Bank of America Stadium are a big reason the Panthers are 6-5 and currently on the outside looking in at the NFC playoff race.

They are a big reason quarterback Cam Newton said the locker room was in a state of "shock" after Sunday's 30-27 loss to Seattle snapped a 10-game home winning streak, including a 5-0 start to this season.

"Man, we had so much disbelief in the outcome of games that you realize, 'Golly, we lost to this team. We lost to that team.' We watch the film and it's happening," Newton said.

With their next two games and three of their final five on the road, the Panthers must find a way to correct those issues or they'll likely miss the playoffs for the second time in three years.

Here are examples in each of those categories.

Missed opportunities

There are a lot to choose from here, from Graham Gano's missed field goal and extra point attempts in a 20-19 loss at Detroit to Newton's inability to finish a last-minute comeback at Washington when he threw three incompletions inside the Redskins' 20 in a 23-17 setback.

But the one that stands out the most is Newton's miss of wide receiver Jarius Wright on the 2-point conversion with little more than a minute left in the loss to Detroit.

The Panthers still had a chance to win despite Gano's bungles. Whether you agree with Rivera's decision to go for two and the win, there's no excuse for Newton badly missing a wide-open Wright across the middle. Even Newton, who on Wednesday said he is playing the best football of his career, repeatedly said after that game, "I've got to make that play."

Win that one and the sting of a 52-21 prime-time loss at Pittsburgh is all but forgotten and the Panthers enter the Week 12 Seattle game with confidence instead of doubt.

Critical mistakes

It may seem like Newton is being picked on here, but he just happens to be involved in two critical plays, including the one selected to highlight this category.

It happened on the first play of Carolina's second series against Pittsburgh. The score was tied 7-7 after the Steelers answered an opening touchdown drive by the Panthers with a 75-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster on their first offensive play.

The touchdown to Smith-Schuster was a bad enough mistake by cornerback James Bradberry, who bit on the play to allow Ben Roethlisberger to go over the top of the secondary, another example of critical mistakes that have haunted Carolina this season.

But Newton followed that with an even bigger mistake. Scrambling back into his own end zone on first down from the 12, the 2015 NFL MVP made arguably his worst decision of the season.

Instead of throwing the ball away or taking a safety with T.J. Watt in his face, Newton tried to make a play. Linebacker Vince Williams picked off the pass and returned it for Pittsburgh's second touchdown in 12 seconds.

From there everything snowballed.

"It was just a domino effect," Newton said.

This was an example of how turnovers have impacted Carolina on the road from both sides of the ball. The defense has 10 interceptions at home and one on the road. Four of Newton's seven interceptions have been away from home. The fumble situation also is out of whack. Carolina has lost three fumbles on the road and one at home. The defense has recovered three fumbles at home and one away.

Run fit

The road woes began in Week 2 at Atlanta. With the Panthers leading 10-3 in the second quarter, Falcons running back Tevin Coleman went off right tackle for a 36-yard gain to the Carolina 24.

Rookie cornerback Donte Jackson was in perfect position to make a play for a short gain but missed the tackle and the line in general missed gap control.

Four plays later, the Falcons tied the score and had the Panthers guessing on the play-action the rest of the game. Coleman had two other big runs, 27 and 19 yards, and the Falcons finished with 170 yards rushing.

This against a Carolina team that was supposed to be stout against the run with one of the best front sevens in the league.

Overall, the Panthers have been good against the run, allowing 96.4 yards a game to rank sixth in the NFL. But they are giving up 116.6 yards on the ground away from home, including an average of 146.6 yards in road losses to Atlanta, Washington and Pittsburgh.

Missed opportunities. Critical mistakes. Run fit.

It all spells disaster for the Panthers on the road.