Panthers' Teddy Bridgewater still has a lot to prove in Week 17

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper had every opportunity to endorse Teddy Bridgewater as his franchise quarterback last week in an interview following the firing of general manager Marty Hurney.

He didn’t.

“It’s a question of who can be that guy that can help you win,” Tepper said when asked about Bridgewater. “That’s the most important position on the field. ... Unless you have that guy for sure that gets you to the playoffs and Super Bowls, you have to keep evaluating that, because ... the only thing that matters is Super Bowls.”

That’s one reason the Panthers took an exploratory look at quarterback Dwayne Haskins on Tuesday when the 15th pick of the 2019 draft was released by Washington after being benched in Sunday’s loss to Carolina.

Nothing is imminent, a person familiar with the situation told ESPN.com. Coach Matt Rhule, who recruited Haskins for Temple before the New Jersey native signed with Ohio State, declined to address any personnel decisions until after the season.

However, that Carolina would even look into Haskins, whose character and leadership came into question last week, raises eyebrows into the uncertainty the Panthers have at quarterback.

It was just over a month ago that offensive coordinator Joe Brady said Bridgewater, 28, could be a franchise quarterback.

But Bridgewater hasn’t lived up that label since for many reasons heading into Sunday’s finale against the New Orleans Saints, the team he led to a 5-0 record last season as the backup to Drew Brees.

If anything, Bridgewater has been average enough that the Panthers (5-10) might need to use what is expected to be a top-10 pick on a quarterback to groom. Bridgewater this past offseason signed a three-year deal that really amounts to two years in the way it is structured.

The criticism can start with Bridgewater’s record: 4-10 overall and 0-8 on potential game-winning or tying drives.

Among quarterbacks with 10 starts, he is one of six without a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime this season.

It doesn’t end there.

Since losing to the Saints 27-24 on Oct. 25, Bridgewater’s stats have been average at best. In his next seven games, he’s thrown seven touchdowns and four interceptions.

He’s thrown 15 touchdown passes overall to rank 23rd in the NFL, 28 behind Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers with a league-best 44.

Among qualifying quarterbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Bridgewater’s one touchdown pass in the fourth quarter is tied with New England’s Cam Newton and Darnold for the fewest.

He’s averaged a touchdown on 8 percent of his throws in the fourth quarter, the lowest of any quarterback in the NFL.

In the red zone, another area where the Panthers have struggled, Bridgewater’s Total Quarterback Rating ranks 29th since Week 9.

His overall QBR of 66.7 ranks 16th in the NFL. Rodgers leads the way at 85.4, followed by Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes at 84.8 and Buffalo’s Josh Allen at 81.9.

They’re examples of franchise quarterbacks, and each has his team in position to make a Super Bowl run.

If you dig deeper, you’ll find Bridgewater has struggled the most when it counts the most.

He ranks 17th in number of points accounted for by the quarterback at 28.1 percent. He ranks 15th in total expected points. He has only four touchdowns to three interceptions in the last two minutes of a half.

He’s been his worst under pressure, throwing seven of his nine interceptions when under duress. That’s the second-most in the league.

After a loss to Denver three weeks ago, Brady began working with Bridgewater on mechanics. He noted some improvement in the 26-14 loss at Green Bay, but Bridgewater still had a fumble at the goal line when trying to go over the top that negated many of the positives.

He’s lost two fumbles in his last three games.

This season hasn’t all been bad for Bridgewater, who on Sunday will have played 13 games without his top weapon, running back Christian McCaffrey.

Many of the things Saints coach Sean Payton saw in the former first-round pick out of Louisville three years ago when acquiring him from the New York Jets still are true.

“I see how he makes quick decisions, the ball comes out,” Payton said. “He knows exactly what he’s seeing defensively. It’s hard to fool him. He makes plays with his feet. You saw that not too long ago against Kansas City, when he made some big plays.

“That leadership and those intangibles that come with it. He’s got the arm talent. Overall, he’s playing well.”

He’s just not playing well enough to be a franchise quarterback. So Sunday is Bridgewater’s last opportunity to put a positive spin on his 2020 season and give the Panthers confidence moving forward with him.

Rhule consistently has said he “absolutely” believes Bridgewater can lead the team going forward.

But believing and seeing are two different things. Rhule would like to see Bridgewater perform well against the Saints on third down, when Carolina ranks 21st with a 40.32% success rate.

“Third down is the key to this game,” Rhule said. “Teddy has done a real nice of extending drives by running the football, but I’d like to see excellence in all of us on third down.”

Bridgewater just wants to playing winning football, but he admitted it would be “awesome” to finish the season with a winning drive.

“To go down there and put together a game-winning drive, for one, we owe it to ourselves,” he said. “We played this game hard this year, and certainly want to execute in those situations.

“It would be good moving forward into the offseason being able to learn from the different experiences we’ve had this year. What better way than to put one [game-winning drive] together this week.”