Last week, the Panthers had a first half to forget, with only a late touchdown drive to salvage what began as a 17-0 lead – Cam Newton said after that game that starting fast was one of their goals – spotting the Redskins 17 points was the difference as their comeback attempt fell short and they dropped to 3-2 after the 23-17 loss in Washington. This week, the first half was just as bad, if not worse.
But the ending was a lot better.
The Panthers only managed five yards in the air and only four first downs in a first half full of miscues and impotent offensive production as they fell down 10-0 at halftime, 17-0 in the fourth quarter before ultimately storming back to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles 21-17 at Lincoln Financial Field to send the Panthers to 4-2 on the season and drop the Eagles to 3-4.
The Panthers completed the largest fourth-quarter comeback in franchise history as they scored 21 points in the fourth quarter – technically in the final 11 minutes – as Cam Newton completed passes to eight different receivers in a game that mirrored last week’s with eerie similarity, from a Devin Funchess touchdown to a big play from Torrey Smith down the stretch to even a missed extra point.
“I’m glad we got another shot at last week, it felt like we got a re-do,” said Greg Olsen, who had only two receptions for five yards but one of them was the go-ahead touchdown from the one-yard line with 1:26 left in the game. “I tell you what, what we just did – we didn’t win the Super Bowl, but what we just did – down 17 on the road to the world champs with one of the top defenses in the league, is pretty hard to do.”
“We’re going to enjoy this one, that’s for sure.”
While the Panthers came out with a win, the sentiment in the locker room is that the Panthers have to stop putting themselves in situations like this, but if they do, they have the ability to come back.
“It’s a good callus to build going forward in the season knowing that when we’re behind we have the ability to get back ahead.” said Ryan Kalil. “But at the same time, the ball could have bounced differently in that second half; we gave them too much of a gap so as excited as I am to come back and close it and win, we’ve got to go back to practice and figure out a way to be better and be more consistent.”
On the other side of the ball, Carson Wentz and the Eagles appeared to have whatever they wanted on a blustery day where the winds reached almost 20 miles per hour throughout the game and forced a missed 36-yard field goal from the Eagles’ Jake Elliott in the first quarter; Wentz would pass for 310 yards and two scores, but was 15-for-18 for 208 yards and an 11-yard touchdown to Alshon Jeffery in the first half – the only mistake Wentz made was on the Eagles first drive when he fumbled the ball and was ultimately touched down for a team sack.
At one point, Wentz completed fifteen straight passes in the first half as the Panthers went into halftime down 10-0.
The mistakes piled up for the Panthers, who were the least penalized team in the league in 2017 and had two field goal opportunities taken away by penalties – back-to-back false starts on Trai Turner and Efe Obada in the second quarter moved the Panthers from the Eagles 21 to the 31 and Ron Rivera elected to punt in the windy conditions as the first half wound down. The Panthers looked as if they were set to attempt a 50-yard try but an intentional grounding call on Cam Newton backed the Panthers up and they would punt.
What appeared to be good news for the Panthers as the punt was downed at the Eagles six-yard line became a triumph for Philadelphia as Carson Wentz led them on a 17-play, 94-yard drive that took up over nine minutes of game time and included a third-and-6 rush by Wendell Smallwood that went for eight yards and a first down and a fourth-and-inches converted on a quarterback sneak by Carson Wentz; the Eagles were 3-for-4 on fourth down on the day. The long drive culminated in a one-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Dallas Goedert – all told, the Panthers weren’t able to stop the Eagles’ tight ends throughout the day as they combined for 13 receptions and 181 yards – Zach Ertz had 138 of those himself, although the 6-5 tight end only had one reception for 14 yards in the fourth quarter after having four catches for 46 in the third; Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly both said the Panthers made adjustments to try to take Ertz out of the game.
After allowing 320 yards to the Eagles over the first three quarters, the Panthers defense – much like it did last week against Washington – would tighten in the fourth quarter, only allowing 22 yards on three drives to the Eagles in the fourth quarter.
“They played a great game until the fourth quarter,” said cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who was incredulous after the game that they had been down 17 in the fourth. “We got stops when we needed them on defense and made plays when we had to. It just shows you the character that we’ve got on that defense and the leadership; it starts with the coaches. We always knew that if we got one stop, it can happen and that’s exactly what happened.”
“We’ve got to play better. We can’t keep putting ourselves in holes every week and expect to come out.”
The Panthers’ offensive woes continued into the third quarter as they would only have 145 total yards through three quarters, with less than 50 of those coming through the air. Down 17-0, Cam Newton was able to put together an 80-yard touchdown drive to pull the team within 17-6; a Curtis Samuel reverse touchdown – with CJ Anderson as a decoy – was the first score of the day for the Panthers as they pulled to 17-6 after a missed Graham Gano extra point. Newton would finish with 269 yards, although 201 of those yards came down by 17 in the fourth quarter during the Panthers comeback.
“He likes to thrive in these types of [situations], trying to make the type of plays to help us win football games,” Ron Rivera said about his quarterback. “That’s what makes him a special player – he wants that type of responsibility. He wants the ball in his hands and we were able to put him in that position.”
The Eagles bid for a game-winning drive came to a close on a Julius Peppers strip-sack on fourth down from the Panthers 14-yard line, but there was some nail-chewing to be done as the final drive unfolded – the Eagles started at their own 35 with 1:17 left and the first play was a deep shot to Alshon Jeffery that drew a pass interference call on James Bradberry; while that might have been an opportunity for some teams to lose focus, that wasn’t the case for the Carolina defense.
“We didn’t blink,” said safety Mike Adams. “We said, ‘So what? They’re not going to score. They’re not going to score.'”
After an apparent Eric Reid interception was overturned – multiple defensive players expressed in the locker room how sure they were that it should have been an interception, including Reid himself calling it a “terrible call” – the defensive line collapsed the pocket on Carson Wentz on the final play of the game for Peppers to get credit for the strip-sack, although it seemed to Wes Horton like they were all back there.
“It just seemed like everyone was back there, so I don’t know who got credit,” Horton, who had three tackles and an earlier forced fumble. “It wasn’t our best performance for three, even four quarters – but that’s a staple of our defensive line. We finish games. With all that went wrong, to be able to finish strong, it embodies what we believe in – keep pounding.”