When the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks took the field at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, both teams had something to prove. As the final quarter of the season approaches, Sunday’s game held big Wild Card implications for both with the Panthers sitting at 6-4 and the Seahawks not far behind at 5-5.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton started the game off fire hot, finishing the first half 14/14 for 159 yards, one touchdown, and a QBR of 137.8. By the end of the game, Newton was 25/30 for 256 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception. Newton’s final 110.6 passer rating gave him his sixth straight game over 100; the NFL’s fourth longest streak since 2008. However, none of that mattered when the game clock showed all zeros and the Seahawks left Charlotte with a 30-27 win.
After a week of focusing on stopping the run, the Panthers secondary suffered a big blow when rookie cornerback Donte Jackson left the game with a quad injury after the first play from scrimmage. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson passed for 339 yards and two touchdowns with huge chunk plays on critical third and fourth downs.
The mantra of the game for the Panthers is “missed opportunities”. After an opening drive down to the 4-yard line, the Panthers went for it on 4th and 2 and failed to convert, coming away with no points. It was the second time in as many games that the Panthers drove to within 10 yards of the goal line and came away empty-handed. Add another missed Graham Gano field goal and the Panthers left a minimum of 6 points on the field.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers were effective at halting the run, which was a major key coming into the game. On the other hand, several missed tackles breathed life into Seahawks drives, ultimately costing the Cardiac Cats the game. Facing 3rd & 5 from their own 47 yard line, Wilson found Tyler Lockett for a 43-yard pass play that put the Seahawks on the Carolina 10-yd line with under a minute remaining. Sebastian Janikowski kicked the 31-yard field goal as time expired.
The long pass play, defended by Captain Munnerlyn, was one of several chunk plays over the top as cornerback Corn Elder was beat for a 35-yard touchdown on Seattle’s previous possession. The Seahawks were 6-14 on 3rd down conversions and 2-2 on 4th down conversions. In a game with four ties, there was little room for error; yet mistakes were abound for the Cardiac Cats who had not lost at home prior to Sunday’s game.
With possession of the ball and driving as the 2-minute warning rolled around, the Panthers seemed in command of the game. Gano’s 52-yard field goal sailed wide right and gave Wilson and company just enough time to get within striking distance and seal the game. While it’s human nature to look at the missed kick as the reason for the loss, all the blame should not be heaped on Gano who stated that he “felt like he hit it pretty well; it just didn’t go in.”
In a game where the Panthers only punted once and amassed 476 total yards, the overall postgame sentiment was frustration. Tight end Greg Olsen stated that the team has “got a lot of sh*t to figure out.” Swiss army knife Christian McCaffrey became the first player in franchise history to record over 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in a game; he finished with 125 rushing yards, 112 receiving yards, and two touchdowns. Coupled with impressive performances once again from DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel, the loss is even more frustrating. The Panthers made seven trips to the red zone but only capitalized on three; Newton’s lone interception came in the end zone.
After losing a game that held high playoff implications, the Panthers begin a two week road span that will present a challenge. The Panthers have not fared well on the road, losing 4 of 5 road games thus far. They will travel to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team fresh off a win over the San Francisco 49ers and not afraid to air it out. This can be a big problem depending on the availability of Donte Jackson.