OAKLAND, Calif. In a wild West Coast shootout with the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, the Carolina Panthers were reminded that a third-quarter spurt is ultimately no match for whoever draws first and fires last.
Oakland beat the Panthers 35-32, edging ahead by a field goal with just 1:45 to play.
A strip sack of Cam Newton on fourth-and-10 buried Carolina for good.
The loss was a further blow to the Panthers’ dwindling playoff hopes, dropping them to 4-7 with a trip to NFC West-leading Seattle on the schedule next Sunday.
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But Panthers coach Ron Rivera wasn’t giving ground afterward, saying his team still had a mathematical chance.
With five games to play, the Panthers are three games behind NFC South-leading Atlanta.
The Raiders (9-2) struck first on a five-play, 62-yard drive during which quarterback Derek Carr was a perfect 4 for 4 with a touchdown pass to Seth Roberts.
Carolina answered within two minutes, driving 75 yards in three plays with a little help from a 47-yard run by Jonathan Stewart and two penalties, one a roughing call. Newton ran a keeper around a nicely sealed edge for the 3-yard touchdown with 3:10 left in the first quarter.
Oakland running back Latavius Murray shimmied into the end zone early in the second quarter, through the arms of Panthers corner Daryl Worley and defensive lineman Kawann Short. It was the first rushing touchdown allowed by Carolina in five games.
A third-down pass breakup by Panthers corner Daryl Worley held Oakland to a 23-yard field goal midway through the half that bumped the lead to 17-7.
When Oakland defensive end Khalil Mack palmed in a short pass by Newton intended for Fozzy Whittaker and rumbled for a 6-yard touchdown, the Raiders led 24-7 at halftime.
Early in the third quarter, Thomas Davis recovered a ball fumbled by Carr and Carolina took over, ultimately punching Jonathan Stewart in for a touchdown. The extra point was blocked.
Carr had to leave the game with what appeared to be a dislocated finger on his throwing hand, sending in backup Matt McGloin, but Carr returned, with a gloved right hand, a series later.
Newton threw an 88-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. with 7:43 left in the third quarter, a career long for the receiver, but the following two-point conversion attempt was overthrown, leaving the Raiders ahead 24-19.
In his first series back, Carr threw another interception to Davis, who returned it 31 yards. Stewart punched in another score, giving the Panthers their first lead of the game, 25-24, after a two-point conversion failed.
Carr threw three incompletions in a row to give the ball back to Carolina, and a 44-yard bomb to Kelvin Benjamin gave the Panthers a 32-24 lead early in the fourth quarter.
But the Raiders answered with a strike to tight end Clive Walford in the end zone and a two-point conversion to draw even, and a 23-field goal sealed it.
Three who mattered
Derek Carr: Carr opened the game by missing only one throw the first quarter and finished the half 14 for 19 with 167 yards and a touchdown before hurting his finger. But in the second half, he fumbled and then threw a pick (both plays were made by Davis). But his touchdown pass to Walford was a beauty.
Cam Newton: The Panthers quarterback, on the other hand, had his worst half in recent memory. His 18 first-half yards was a career low. In the second half, he threw two touchdown passes and for 228 yards.
Khalil Mack: The Oakland defensive end shed blocker Trai Turner and intercepted a quick screen pass, returning it for 6 yards and a touchdown with under a minute left in the second quarter. He also sealed the game on fourth down with a sack-and-strip of Newton, which he recovered.
▪ Stewart’s 47-yard run up the middle in the first quarter eclisped his total yardage per game in the last three weeks in just a single play.
▪ Raiders punter Marquette King, known for his post-punt celebrations, pulled out a little tongue-in-cheek move against Carolina. After he punted in the first quarter, he ran to the sideline dabbing all the way.
▪ Newton was sacked on third down in the second quarter by Bruce Irvin to force a punt. Irvin has eight sacks against the Carolina quarterback in six games.
▪ Thomas Davis both recovered a fumble and returned an interception in the second half. On both following drives, Carolina scored a touchdown – both by running back Stewart.
▪ Starting right tackle Daryl Williams left the game in the first half with an apparent lower leg injury. Backup-to-every-lineman Chris Scott entered the game in his place. Center Gino Gradkowski had to leave the game late in the third quarter, sending in third-string center Tyler Larsen.
▪ Carolina was without starting linebacker Luke Kuechly for the first time this season as he continues through the concussion protocol. The Panthers were also missing starting center Ryan Kalil (shoulder), defensive end Mario Addison (foot), wide receiver Brenton Bersin, corner Lou Young, defensive tackle Vernon Butler and running back Cam Artis-Payne.
▪ Backup quarterback Derek Anderson was flagged on the sideline late in the second quarter for “disrespecting the official” as he argued what he thought was pass interference on Benjamin. The resulting yards forced Carolina to punt from its own end zone.
▪ While Carr threw to nine different receivers in the first half alone, Newton targeted just four receivers and completed three first-half passes. Two receivers (Ginn and Benjamin) dropped two passes each. Benjamin was targeted four times with no catches before he caught a 44-yard touchdown pass from Newton.
They said it
“You’ve got to give their resilience credit, but there are no moral victories.” – Panthers coach Ron Rivera.
“The health of this football team is very disappointing. The missed opportunities are disappointing.” – Rivera.
“We have to come together and win these close games.” – Newton, whose team is 2-5 in games decided by a field goal or less.