CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Coach Ron Rivera isn’t overly concerned about the offense’s lackluster performance in the preseason.

“I’m not going to push the panic button,” Rivera said Monday. “I’m not sure why I should either.”

League MVP Cam Newton has led 15 drives during the preseason that have resulted in only 13 points. The Panthers scored three points against the New England Patriots on Friday night with Newton under center for 10 possessions.

While Rivera remained non-committal on whether Newton and other starters will play in Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers, history suggests they won’t.

Newton hasn’t played in the last preseason game since his rookie season in 2011 when the Panthers were frantically trying to prepare him for the regular season after the former No. 1 pick missed most of the offseason workouts due to the NFL owners’ lockout.

Rivera harkens back to last preseason when the Panthers also struggled against New England, but started 14-0 and reached the Super Bowl.

Rivera also acknowledges he’s concerned about injuries in preseason finales, which is why he tends to holdout his key players.

Still, Newton described the team’s overall offensive inefficiency as an “eye opener,” and expressed some concern about the lack of communication with his teammates.

“We just got to be on each other’s Wi-Fi stronger than we have been,” Newton said. “It’s been a lackluster performance with the communication part and when that happens, if you’re already beat pre-snap, then the success rate is going to be extremely low.”

For a team that led the league in scoring last season with 500 points, the idea of scoring 13 points on 15 possessions seems a little unsettling.

“We do need better production from everybody including myself,” Newton said. “There were times in the game where I forced certain things where I shouldn’t have and I just have to be more mature and have more understanding of the offensive just to check it down, and let guys do what they do.”

Of course, the Panthers will be a different team in the regular season.

First, Newton will be allowed to run the ball which creates problems for defenses. And the Panthers expect to have leading receiver Greg Olsen back in the lineup after missing the last two preseason games with back spasms.

Rivera said he doesn’t believe the Panthers are far off from having success on offense. He said the players were where they were supposed to be — they just didn’t execute.

“We had guys wide open and we overthrew them. We were wide open and we dropped the ball. We missed opportunities on some cut backs in terms of our running game. We missed blocks,” Rivera said. “So that’s really what this is about was about taking advantage of opportunities in front of you and we didn’t. … We just didn’t play the way we are capable of and that is what is disappointing.”

When the Panthers do have to punt, the team will likely feel a little better about the potential outcome.

Carolina acquired three-time Pro Bowl punter Andy Lee and a seventh-round pick in 2017 from the Browns on Monday in exchange for young punter Kasey Redfern and a fourth-round pick in 2018. That helps solidify a punting situation that has been in flux since Brad Nortman signed a four-year, $8.8 million contract with Jacksonville earlier this offseason as an unrestricted free agent.

The Panthers had signed veteran punter Mike Scifres, but he injured his right leg against New England.


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