Even when it looks like it’s going to be easy, it’s not easy for the Carolina Panthers in 2016.
That proved true again Sunday, when the Panthers allowed a 23-point lead late in the second quarter to be trimmed to 10 before they held on to beat the San Diego Chargers 28-16 at Bank of America Stadium.
The Panthers (5-8) led 23-0 before the Chargers (5-8) rallied.
When Philip Rivers completed a 19-yard touchdown pass to Dontrelle Inman with 30 seconds to play in the the third quarter, the lead was down to 26-16. And the Chargers had scored on three consecutive possessions.
After a three-and-out for Carolina gave the ball back to the Chargers, Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson stepped in front of a pass intended for Antonio Gates.
It looked like the Panthers would go in for a clinching score, with first and goal at the 4, but Trovon Reed stepped in front of a Cam Newton pass to Kelvin Benjamin at the goal line and intercepted.
He returned the ball for a touchdown, but that was overturned on replay, and the Chargers were 97 yards away and down 10 with 10 minutes, 58 seconds to play.
Mario Addison’s sack of Rivers for a safety made it 28-16.
“If we could have scored some touchdowns instead of field goals, it would have been a different type of fourth quarter,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “It would have helped to get some touchdowns instead of field goals.”
The Chargers couldn’t get any closer, with the Panthers clinching the game on an interception by Kurt Coleman.
The Panthers forced five turnovers and sacked Rivers five times, with two of them resulting in fumbles recovered by Carolina.
Newton finished 10 of 27 for 160 yards and a touchdown, and ran eight times for 31 yards.
“Not to rain on the win, but we have to put up points, put up touchdowns,” Newton said. “If we do that, that game’s out of hand.”
Three who mattered
Kawann Short: Short had two sacks, including one that caused a Rivers fumble, in the first quarter alone.
Greg Olsen: He didn’t score, but Olsen was Newton’s most consistent target, catching four passes for 87 yards.
Jonathan Stewart: In addition to his touchdown run, Stewart ran for a fourth-quarter first down on fourth-and-1 with the Panthers only leading by 10. He finished with 24 carries for 66 yards and the score.
▪ A Newton run that came up just short of the end zone in the first quarter was challenged by Rivera – as the fans in the stands cheered at what they thought they saw on replay. The call was confirmed, proving that even 60,000 people can see what they want to see on replay – and be wrong. Stewart scored on the next play for a 10-0 lead.
▪ Panthers defensive end Ryan Delaire’s sack was his first of the year, and he broke out an elaborate sack dance, which we hadn’t seen because, well, you know.
▪ Temperature at kickoff was 42 degrees, with very little wind. Chad Knaus, crew chief for seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, was on the Keep Pounding drum, and the grandstands were 60 percent full for the opening kickoff.
▪ Panthers kicker Graham Gano had field goals of 41, 44, 45 and 23 yards.
▪ Asked if the Panthers would try to get linebacker Luke Kuechly, declared out Saturday and still in the concussion protocol, ready to play against Washington in Week 15, Rivera said “we’ll see.” Rivera said he would listen to the doctors.
▪ Chargers running back Melvin Gordon was injured trying to recover the fumble on the strip sack of Rivers during the first quarter. He was carted off with a left hip injury and didn’t return. He was replaced by rookie Kenneth Farrow.
▪ Panthers rookie cornerback Daryl Worley got his first career interception on the first play of the second quarter and returned it 22 yards.
▪ San Diego’s touchdown late in the first half came on a 9-yard pass from Rivers to Hunter Henry. That was set up by a 46-yard completion to Tyrell Williams on a free play, set up by Short jumping into the neutral zone.
▪ Newton completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes for the fourth consecutive game after falling below that mark only six times in the first 86 games of his career.
They said it
“I think it shows we’re not going to roll over.” – Panthers linebacker A.J. Klein on the defensive effort Sunday.
“They had their moments. There were some times when we needed them to come through, and they did.” – Rivera, on his offensive line.
“No, other than keep pounding.” – Rivera, on whether he had a special message for his team when San Diego cut the lead to 10 at the start of the fourth quarter.
“For us, we’re happy we got a win today, and hopefully we’ll keep it going.” – Newton.