The Panthers have a simple recipe for success – don’t make mistakes, pressure the opposing quarterback into mistakes and produce turnovers on defense and let Christian McCaffrey do his thing.
In their 24-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers, McCaffrey was good with 108 yards, but the other three were left wanting. The Panthers were unable to produce pressure – they sacked Aaron Rodgers twice but he had plenty of time for most of the day, in addition to their run defense consistently being gashed – they produced no turnovers and Kyle Allen turned the ball over twice.
“Tough,” said Greg Olsen. “The things we overcame, the bounces that didn’t go our way – I don’t know how many people would say, after everything that went on that we would have the ball to tie the game at the two-yard line.”
But ultimately, their final drive fell half a yard short and the Panthers fell to 5-4 on a snowy Lambeau Field. Here’s how it happened.
After punting on their initial drive to start the game, the Panthers second possession went a lot better than their first.
Carolina started with excellent field position after forcing the Packers to go three-and-out, so they didn’t have to travel far to get it in the end zone. It took the Panthers only five plays and the Panthers gained the lead early with a Curtis Samuel two-yard touchdown catch – Samuel has scored four times in his past four games, but only reeled in four of his eight targets on the day.
Before that, D.J. Moore caught a 38-yard catch from Kyle Allen on first down, which got the Panthers inside the red zone. It was the 40th play of 20 plus yards the Packers defense had allowed this season; Allen’s play fake froze the Packers defenders and that was enough to allow Moore to be open on the right side of the field – Allen also had McCaffrey open underneath but chose the deeper route and it paid off as Moore was able to pick up 22 yards after the catch.
Moore would finish with nine catches and 120 yards, his second consecutive game with more than 100 yards.
The drive was important because the Panthers offense has played well with the lead this season – outside of the San Francisco game, Allen had only trailed for six minutes entering the seventh start of his career.
— NFL (@NFL) November 10, 2019
All week, Panthers defenders discussed how hard it was to keep Aaron Rodgers from finding a man open downfield if you gave him a few seconds to improvise. And that’s exactly what happened on their second drive of the game as they answered the Panthers score with a seven play, 75-yard drive that began with a 20-yard pass interference penalty on Donte Jackson and finished with the first of three rushing touchdowns for Aaron Jones – the man who came into the game second in the NFL in total touchdowns to only McCaffrey would finish with 13 carries for 93 yards and the three scores – but a third-down conversion late in the drive was vintage Rodgers. Brian Burns and Wes Horton got some push but Rodgers bounced away from the pressure and hit Allen Lazard over the middle for a 19-yard gain – two plays later they would score and the game was tied at seven.
Allen Fumbles Again
Allen has had his issues with holding on to the ball, fumbling six times in his first three starts of the season. Although he has been more cautious with the football in recent weeks, Allen’s fumbling issues would return in the second quarter – after starting the game 8-of-10 for 85 yards, Allen would make a mistake….one thing the Panthers couldn’t afford for him to do.
Up 10-7, Allen fumbled the snap at midfield as Montravius Adams recovered the ball for the Packers. That would then lead to a six-play, 52-yard drive that ended in an Aaron Jones one-yard touchdown run to put the Packers up 14-10 – that drive was lowlighted by Rodgers hitting a wide open Jimmy Graham and Graham breaking tackles in the open field for a big gain.
Allen’s fumble was a turning point for the Panthers as they started the drive with excellent field position with a three-point lead.
Jimmy Graham running like a freight train in the open field pic.twitter.com/UilEyedgvH
— IKE Packers (@IKE_Packers) November 10, 2019
Ball Don’t Lie
A dubious roughing the passer call on Gerald McCoy late in the second quarter almost swung the momentum in the Packers’ favor – but five minutes later, McCoy would have his revenge.
Facing a third-and-long at their own seven-yard line, Rodgers appeared to be swallowed up by Bruce Irvin and Gerald McCoy in his own end zone as he threw incomplete to running back Jamaal Williams – but instead of punting out of their own end zone with just over four minutes left in the half, the Panthers would advance 15 yards on the dubious call.
“That’s one the NFL will use to teach players how to do it, yet he was flagged for roughing the passer,” FOX Analyst Troy Aikman said on the broadcast about the call, which referees would tell McCoy was flagged due to the defensive tackle landing with his weight on Rodgers.
The Packers would slowly and methodically burn the rest of the clock as they advanced down the field, but after a pass to Jimmy Graham near the right pylon that was originally called a touchdown was overturned, Rodgers threw an incompletion with less than ten seconds on the clock – but dual fouls on the Panthers, including a pass interference penalty in the end zone on Donte Jackson, took the ball down to the one-yard line.
The Packers eschewed a field goal attempt to try and put the Panthers in a deep hole heading to halftime – and then this happened.
— NFL (@NFL) November 10, 2019
The score stood at 14-10 heading to the half.
Another Mistake For Kyle
After the Packers went 75 yards on only five plays to score on the opening drive of the second half – so much for the momentum gained by the McCoy stuff near the end of the half – the Panthers needed an answer, down 21-10. Despite an inauspicious muffed kickoff return by DeAndrew White, the Panthers offense was able to move the ball on the Packers defense, with Allen using a nice mixture of finding receivers downfield and dumping it down to Christian McCaffrey to bring the Panthers into the red zone.
But disaster struck as Allen stepped up in the pocked and forced a pass intended for Jarius Wright into double coverage; after the ball was tipped in the air, it was intercepted by Tramon Williams in the end zone – the Packers took over on their 20-yard line and marched 51 yards for a field goal to put themselves up 24-10.
“The guy is trying to make a play,” said Ron Rivera after the game. “I’m not going to fault the guy for putting it all on the line and trying to make plays and trying to make things happen.”
Carolina needed a score to make it a one-score game in the third quarter. Instead, they gave the ball back to the Packers offense without scoring any points; Allen’s interception might have taken the sails out of the Panthers on both sides of the ball. In their five wins this season, Allen had turned it over five times – in his only loss, he had turned it over three times.
Allen would finish with over 300 yards passing, the first time he’s crossed that mark in his career and put the Panthers in a position to win with an impressive final drive – but those turnovers were a killer at crucial moments.
Going For Two?
Down two scores, Kyle Allen engineered a 10-play, 82-yard touchdown drive to bring the Panthers back within a score as he went 4-of-5 for 60 yards on the drive, including a 21-yard beauty of a throw to Jarius Wright to bring them into the red zone. After two Christian McCaffrey carries ate up the final 12 yards and the MVP candidate scored his 11th rushing touchdown of the season – the running back had a very quiet 107 yards on the day – Ron Rivera made the curious decision to go for two down eight points, which is supported by analytics – the team’s expected win percentage goes up if you’re able to convert.
According to statistics website Five Thirty Eight, Rivera made the right move – although it’s a bit unprecedented.
Being down 8 and being down 4 in the fourth quarter are clear “go” situations,” said Benjamin Morris in his 2017 article. “Yet no coach has gone for 2 in either of these spots in the past two years. The NFL’s extra point rule change practically begged coaches to go for 2 more often, and not one has tried to pluck even a single one of the lowest hanging fruit.”
Rivera tried to pluck it – and Allen’s pass intended for Greg Olsen was batted down in the back of the end zone and the Panthers were down 24-16 with just over nine minutes left.
Half A Yard Short
After driving 88 yards on 18 plays in two and a half minutes, it was the last 12 inches that cost them as Christian McCaffrey was stopped a half-yard short of the goalline – even a last ditch effort by Greg Van Roten, who admitted after the game that he had missed the block that might have allowed McCaffrey to walk into the end zone easily, to drag his running back over the line wasn’t enough as replay upheld the officials ruling that the Panthers running back was shy of the goalline and the Panthers fell to the Packers 24-16.
“I didn’t get in,” said McCaffrey. “I’ve just got to get in on those situations – we gave ourselves a shot, but we didn’t get it.”
“We’ve just got to finish.”