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Jaguars at Panthers
Expanded coverage of Carolina’s Week 5 NFL game.
Three in a row. Keep that in mind before reading the rest of this week’s report card. The Panthers may not have been impressive in a handful of areas Sunday in their 34-27 win over the Jaguars, but they have won three consecutive games. Being pretty doesn’t matter if the end result is Carolina’s first victory at Bank of America Stadium in 11 months.
C-plus: Kyle Allen still hasn’t thrown an interception this season. He’s also 4-0 as a starter in his career, including the three games he has played this season since taking over for Cam Newton. Those are important notes to consider before evaluating his play against Jacksonville, which was meh with a hard “h.” Allen continues to struggle with his accuracy, completing 17-of-30 pass attempts for 181 yards and one touchdown. Six of those completions — and nine targets — were to Christian McCaffrey.
Newton was right when he called McCaffrey a “safety valve” and “easy button,” among other descriptions, but Allen is relying on him too heavily. The only passing highlight Allen made was a 52-yard pass to DJ Moore, who went up and grabbed a 50-50 ball.
A-plus: It’s McCaffrey running the football. There’s not much else that needs to be said. On the Panthers’ first drive of the third quarter, he took a carry off tackle on the left side, cut back inside and went 84 yards untouched to the end zone. He carried 19 times for 176 yards, and backup Reggie Bonnafon carried four times for 80 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown with 3:46 to play that did everything but put the game away.
McCaffrey limped down the sideline to congratulate Bonnafon on his score and didn’t play the final two drives. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said it was only cramps keeping McCaffrey off the field, but keep an eye on that situation this week.
D: There’s not enough buzz around the NFL about defensive end Mario Addison, who may well be the MVP of Carolina’s defense through five games. He picked up sack No. 6 1/2 in the second quarter Sunday when he stripped Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew on a third-and-6 play that was returned 56 yards for a touchdown by rookie Brian Burns (his first professional score). Burns had a strip-sack of Minshew on Jacksonville’s second-to-last drive.
Carolina’s problem, though, was that Addison was their best weapon defending the pass. If he or Gerald McCoy weren’t applying pressure, Minshew picked apart the Panthers’ coverage. On a six-play, 83-yard scoring drive in the second quarter, Minshew completed passes of 35 (James O’Shaughnessy), 30 (Dede Westbrook) and 11 yards (touchdown to DJ Chark, his second of the half).
Minshew passed for 374 yards and two touchdowns.
B: Jags running back Leonard Fournette was taken four picks ahead of McCaffrey in the 2017 NFL Draft. McCaffrey — and Carolina’s defense — showed who the better back is Sunday. Fournette still rushed for more than 100 yards (48 of those on one fourth-quarter carry) but never looked like the consistent threat he did last week when he ran for 225 yards at Denver.
D: Joey Slye’s streak of 10 consecutive made field goals ended in the second quarter when he had a 56-yarder partially blocked. In the third quarter, he pushed a 46-yard try toward the same north goal posts wide right. He then missed a PAT late in the fourth quarter. And can someone remind us why Ray-Ray McCloud is still the Panthers’ return man? He averaged 19.5 yards on kicker returns and got a whole 3 yards on the one punt return he didn’t fair catch.
C: With momentum about to shift in full favor of Jacksonville and 2:57 until halftime, a third-and-24 pass from Allen to tight end Greg Olsen fell incomplete. It appeared clear that Olsen was held by his defender on the 12-yard route. Rivera pulled the red challenge flag out of his back pocket and held it in his hand but never tossed it onto the field, instead sending out Slye, whose 56-yard field-goal attempt was partially blocked. The Jags kicked a field goal on the ensuing drive to cut the lead to 21-17 at the break.
Decision making took a turn for the worst in the fourth quarter when the Panthers led 28-24 with 11:59 to play and faced fourth-and-1 from the Jacksonville 5. Carolina ran a trick play on third-and-1 the play before (an incomplete McCaffrey pass), then decided that rather than kicking a field goal to go up by 7, they’d run McCaffrey to the left. He was dropped for a loss of 2 yards, and the Jaguars kicked a field goal the following drive, trimming the lead to 1.