CHARLOTTE — It’s hard to imagine things going much worse this season for Panthers quarterback Jimmy Clausen.
Yet the Carolina’s second-round draft pick out of Notre Dame insists his confidence isn’t shaken after yet another dreadful performance in Thursday’s night’s 27-3 loss at Pittsburgh. Clausen’s record as a starter dropped to 1-8 and he completed 10 of 23 passes for just 72 yards with one interception against the Steelers.
Clausen finished with a passing rating of 33.2, the fourth time this season he’s had a rating below 34.
“What doesn’t kill him is going to make him stronger,” said offensive tackle Jordan Gross. “It’s going to be one of those two.”
Clausen has completed less than 52 percent of his passes this season with four times as many interceptions (8) as touchdown passes (2). He’s been sacked 30 times and has thrown the ball away on dozens of other occasions after being pressured out of the pocket.
As for his confidence level, Clausen insists he’s fine.
“I just have to go out each and every day and get better,” Clausen said, repeating what has been his catch phrase so often this season.
“Obviously last week was a good week for us (a win over Arizona) but then you come in here, and for me to play like I did tonight. I don’t know. It’s just tough.”
Clausen has a reputation as a hard worker, a gym rat.
Teammates and coaches attest that he’s spends numerous hours at Bank of America Stadium studying film, long after everyone else has gone home.
The problem is it’s not translating to production on the field; he has a quarterback rating of 56.8 — the lowest mark in the league.
Now, with one game left in the season, Clausen may be quickly running out of time to prove to general manager Marty Hurney and Carolina’s next head coach that he deserves to be the franchise’s quarterback of the future.
A loss on Jan. 2 at Atlanta means the Panthers will get the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft. If Stanford sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck declares for the NFL draft, Carolina will face a tough decision — Luck or the Irish.
Luck is touted as the closest quarterback prospect there has been to a so-called sure thing since John Elway, and Luck is nearly the consensus No. 1 pick.
Obviously, if the Panthers go that direction it could put Clausen’s future with the team in doubt.
In the meantime, Clausen’s teammates remain optimistic, for the most part, that he’ll improve with time.
“I look for him to mature and grow,” said linebacker Jon Beason, one of the veteran players Clausen has regularly sought out for advice during this trying season. “A lot of times when you have a lot of bad things happen consistently, when the good things you cherish them and hold on to them.”
Beason says the rookie is tough-minded enough to get through this.
“Oh absolutely, he’s a tough kid for sure,” Beason said.
The Panthers need only look at the team across the sidelines Thursday night to see what a franchise quarterback can do for your organization.
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 320 yards and a touchdown and ran for another as the Steelers outgained the Panthers 408-119 in a dominant overall team performance.
Whether or not Clausen ever gets to that level remains to be seen.
Carolina’s first two drives Thursday night were promising as the Panthers gained 73 yards, twice reaching the Steelers 32-yard line but failing to come away with any points.
The Steelers made an adjustment, putting an extra man in the box to stop the Panthers running game and forced Clausen to beat them.
The Panthers only gained 46 yards on their final nine possessions.
Clausen’s longest completion was for 15 yards, coming on a dump pass to running back Mike Goodson, who did most of the work.
“We’ve obviously had our struggles at that position,” coach John Fox said of Clausen. “We obviously have some work to do in that area.”