The Panthers started out hot and fizzled just as quickly as the Panthers gained 130 yards on their first two drives but only 70 on their next nine, losing to the 2-9 Washington Redskins to fall to 5-7; the Panthers have lost five of their last six games and four straight as the blame should be shared among the whole team and coaching staff – the Redskins set season high in rushing yards and sacks as the Panthers couldn’t stop the run in the second half, couldn’t protect Kyle Allen throughout the game and crucially couldn’t convert on third down – after converting their first two third downs on their first two drives, they wouldn’t convert another until the fourth quarter.

Here’s how the loss – their second consecutive embarrassing home loss of the season – happened.

Just The Way They Drew It Up

It was definitely important for the Panthers to start well this week, especially against the 2-9 Redskins – and that’s exactly what they did.

After weeks where their offense has gotten off to a slow start, the Panthers’ first drive of Sunday’s game couldn’t have gone any better. Carolina’s 75-yard, eight-play drive resulted in seven points to begin the game as Kyle Allen continued to build on his solid performance against the Saints by going 3-for-3 on the drive for 30 yards, including a four-yard touchdown pass to Curtis Samuel on the only third down they’d face on the drive. Christian McCaffrey also saw a lot of action during the first drive as he rushed for 27 yards on four carries and caught a 12-yard reception which gave the Panthers a first down.

Five minutes into the game, the Panthers led 7-0.

For Arielle

If the Panthers’ first drive was textbook, their second drive was even better.

After the Redskins offense went three and out, actually going backwards and losing 11 yards, the Panthers offense started near midfield at their own 45-yard line. Allen then went to work with a couple of big pass plays for chunk yardage. On 2nd-and-8, Allen completed a 10-yard pass to Moore for a Panthers first down and on the next play, Allen would complete a 33-yard pass to Curtis Samuel that put the Panthers offense inside the red zone.

Samuel would finish with four catches for 65 yards on seven targets and more had six for 75 – both had touchdowns.

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On 3rd-and goal at the 13-yard-line, Allen would find Moore for the Panthers’ second touchdown of the game early in the first quarter – both touchdowns came on third down against the league’s worst third-down defense. Early on, the Panthers were able to exploit the Redskins defense, which entered Sunday’s game 24th worst in passing defense in terms of yards per pass play; the young Redskins secondary entered the game allowing over seven yards/attempt, Kyle Allen averaged 13.25 yards/attempt in the first quarter as he completed his first eight attempts and finished the quarter with a 150.4 passer rating.

That wouldn’t continue.

Letting Them Hang Around

Photo Credit: Associated Press

After Carolina scored on its first two drives of the game, the Redskins didn’t get a lot going offensively, outside of a 60-yard run by Derrius Guice that set up their first field goal – in fact, the team had only 57 net yards in the first quarter despite the 60-yarder.

But then again, neither did the Panthers as the two teams traded punts on four consecutive drives before the Panthers made a mistake that gifted the Redskins a touchdown.

After a Tress Way punt was downed inside the three-yard line, Allen missed on a pass intended for Moore and the ball ended up in the hands of Redskins cornerback Fabian Moreau – Moreau took the ball back to the Panthers one-yard-line and Guice was able to run it in for a touchdown run to bring the Panthers lead down to two points after the two-point conversion was ruled incomplete.

Allen began the game completing his first eight passes, but went 3-for-11 for 17 yards and an interception to finish the first half – the lack of touches for Christian McCaffrey in a second quarter that saw the Panthers have only one first down was especially curious – after 10 touches in the first quarter that saw the Panthers roll to 14 points, the Panthers MVP candidate had only three touches in the second quarter as the Redskins clawed back to within two at halftime.

McCaffrey, the league’s leading rusher, would finish with 14 carries for 44 yards.

After the Panthers first two touchdown drives, the next eight drives would end thusly:

  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Interception
  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Punt

A Terrible Third

With not much going right for the Panthers offensively after their first two drives of the game, it took until more than ten minutes were gone in the second half to pick up their third third down conversion of the game – but it would come via penalty and at a cost as with 4:54 left in the third quarter, down 15-14, Carolina lost one of the leaders of their team.

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On a 3rd-and-10 play, Allen completed a short pass to Greg Olsen and as the tight end was trying to get the ball past the marker, he suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit from linebacker Ryan Anderson. Olsen crumbled to the turf and as he was helped to the blue sidelines tent to be evaluated for a concussion, Anderson was called for a personal foul for lowering his helmet on the play and ejected – Olsen would leave the game in the concussion protocol.

The Panthers would go three-and-out after the penalty.

The Run Defense Is….Well, It’s Bad

Photo Credit: Brian Blanco/AP Photo

Down 15-14 and needing a stop, the Panthers defense couldn’t get the Redskins offense off the field – with their defensive line already ailing with Gerald McCoy battling a knee/ankle injury and Dontari Poe and Kawann Short already on IR, once Vernon Butler was shaken up and went to the sideline with trainers, Washington ran the ball down the Panthers throat.

It was the Derrius Guice Show as the 2018 second round pick rushed the ball four times on the drive for 54 yards as the drive resulted in a one-yard touchdown run – the highlight – or lowlight, depending on how you look at it – of the drive was a Guice 38-yard run that got the Redskins down inside the one.

On the afternoon, the Redskins offensive line just controlled the line of scrimmage against the Panthers gap-control defense. Coming into Sunday, Carolina’s rush defense has been a main concern throughout the season as they were giving up an average of 127.5 yards per game, which was 27th in the NFL – the Redskins came into the game averaging less than 86 yards rushing per game and ended with 249 yards rushing, their highest total since 2012.

After the Guice touchdown put Washington up 22-14, the Panthers would – again – go three-and-out and punt it back to the Redskins, who needed only five plays to go 55 yards for a score to put the 2-9 Redskins up by two scores and send Panthers fans scurrying for the exit as Bank of America turned burgundy and gold for the final few minutes of the game.

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So You’re Telling Me There’s A Chance

After a Kyle Allen rushing touchdown that took the Panthers to the two-minute warning down 29-21, the Panthers lined up for the onside kick with 1:51 left in regulation and the odds were stacked against them. It would be the Panthers’ first onside kick recovered since 1998 against Buffalo and the NFL had only recovered 8.1% of their onside kicks before Atlanta recovered two on Thanksgiving this week.

But Michael Palardy hit the ball perfectly and linebacker Jermaine Carter, Jr. was able to stay in his lane and dive for the recovery, giving the Panthers another chance, down by eight points and on the Redskins’ side of the 50-yard line.

On the first play of the drive, Allen completed a pass to Moore for 17 yards. Moore would catch two more balls to put the Panthers near the goalline with less than two minutes to go – a position they’d been in before, but couldn’t convert on their three previous attempts against Tampa Bay, Green Bay and New Orleans. This time they had just under a minute and needed a touchdown and extra point – just what they would have needed against the Packers – to tie the 2-9 Redskins. But after two handoffs to McCaffrey were stuffed, Allen couldn’t get it to Moore in the middle of the field.

And once again, with the game on the line, the Panthers failed to put the ball in the end zone – Allen didn’t see an open Jarius Wright on the right side of the end zone and scrambled backwards to avoid the rush before finally being taken down 23 yards behind the line of scrimmage for the Redskins’ sixth sack of the game as the Panthers fell to 5-7 on the season.

Antwan S
Antwan Staley has written for publications such as USA TODAY, Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.