CHARLOTTE, N. C. -- In a good performance against the Kanas City Chiefs last week, it appeared that the Carolina Panthers were headed in the right direction.

But Friday night in New England, the Panthers were pitiful, leaving head coach Ron Rivera lamenting his team's lack of consistency.

"We had opportunities to make plays; we didn't make the plays. We make a block; we miss a block," Rivera said. "We complete a pass; we miss a pass. We had an opportunity to stop a team on third down, and we didn't do that."

While the defense had its own issues, the glaring deficiencies were on offense. There was not one person or unit to blame. Quarterback Cam Newton, the running backs, the offensive line -- they all had a hand in an uninspiring performance.

So instead of watching Thursday's preseason finale from the sideline in Pittsburgh, the starting offense will play. How much they'll be out there is unclear, but it is obvious they need more work together.

"It was very evident that we've got to get (Newton) out there," Rivera said. "We've got to get our quarterback out on the field, and he's got to get some timing with those guys."

Not surprisingly, Newton's timing with his buddy and rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin appears OK. They connected five times against the Patriots, giving them seven completions in two games. But Newton twice overthrew Greg Olsen, his tight end the last three seasons, and new wideouts Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant didn't catch a pass. In their two games with Newton, Avant has the only reception between the veteran receivers.

"When you look at the film, we're getting open. But at the same time, you've got to develop that trust in the game," Avant said. "In practice, we have it, but you've got to constantly see a person open, and constantly see a person doing the right thing, and then make the decision and say, 'He's always in the spot, so I can trust him to throw it there.' "

It is obvious the combo of a host of new players and a quarterback that has been back on the field for less than a month needs more time to jell. When the Panthers return to practice Sunday, they'll have two weeks before the season opener in Tampa Bay. That does not give them much time, but they do have one more good chance to cram.

"I knew they had to play (against the Steelers), but just how much was really dependent on how well they played tonight," Rivera said. "And obviously we didn't play well enough."

Newton was not available to the media after Friday's game because he was in pain from taking a shot to the back/ribs during a scramble. X-rays came back negative.

Strong safety Robert Lester was carted off with a sprained ankle in the second quarter. X-rays came back negative.

Defensive end Greg Hardy re-aggravated a shoulder injury early in the second quarter, but he was able to finish the first half.