Instant analysis from the Carolina Panthers’ 20-9 victory at Jacksonville:
The Carolina Panthers played without their top wide receiver, then lost their best defensive player just before halftime when middle linebacker Luke Kuechly went down – he did, in fact, fall down while trying to get up – with a concussion.
But the Panthers found a way to win, beating Jacksonville 20-9 in a game that will not be featured on either team’s end-of-season highlight video.
Call it winning ugly, a workmanlike victory, whatever – the Panthers will take it.
Kuechly’s injury was scary. The Panthers’ $62 million man was stunned after hitting the Jags’ T.J. Yeldon with his helmet following a short completion.
But backup linebacker A.J. Klein played well, as did the defensive line. Josh Norman provided the Panthers’ prettiest play with a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown, which he celebrated by riding an imaginary horse in the end zone.
But the rest of the Panthers’ day was more about grit, best symbolized by wideout Jerricho Cotchery’s first-down catch in the fourth quarter.
Carolina led 17-9 and the Jags appeared to have forced the Panthers into a quick three-and-out after a Cam Newton incompletion on third-and-10.
But the Jags had called timeout before the play, giving the Panthers had a do-over. Newton hit Cotchery for an 8-yard gain, and Cotchery fought through two defenders to get to the sticks.
Why did it matter?
Instead of punting from their end zone, the Panthers ended up taking eight minutes off the clock before Graham Gano iced it with a 47-yard field goal.
The Panthers (finally) got their running game going on the drive. And with the way the defense was getting after quarterback Blake Bortles, the 11-point lead was plenty.