Three players who mattered in the Panthers game against the Detroit Lions
After throwing for 357 yards and three touchdowns Sunday, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had one word for the performance of both himself and his team.
Newton was angry with himself for missing an open receiver on the deciding two-point conversion in Carolina’s disheartening 20-19 loss to Detroit on Sunday.
Carolina coach Ron Rivera, whose kicker Graham Gano had already missed an extra point and a 34-yard field goal, put the game in Newton’s hands with 1:07 left after Newton had just thrown an 8-yard TD pass to DJ Moore. Rivera decided to go for two instead of taking the extra point and a 20-20 tie.
The Panthers had four receivers on the play and Detroit only rushed three players, which meant Newton had all sorts of time. He stood on the 10-yard line, scanning the field and considering his options.
“I was about to run,” said Newton, who ended up only rushing two times for 2 yards the entire game. “And that’s when Jankey (Jarius Wright) kind of flashed so fast.”
Wright had broken off a drag route across the field from right to left and changed direction, improvising to a spot directly over the middle. He raised his hands, indicating how open he was. Newton threw the ball — but it was high and behind Wright, who had no chance.
“I didn’t get an opportunity to set my feet,” Newton said later. “But needless to say, man, I gotta make that play. I feel as if, we make that play, (I) have all confidence in our defense stopping those guys. And we get a much-needed win on the road.”
Instead, the Panthers (6-4) lost again on the road, dropping their record to 1-4 away from Bank of America Stadium. Newton, who had returned from a minor leg injury that forced him to miss one play, was downcast afterward.
“This game is such a humbling game at times, and today I was humbled,” Newton said. “It happens.”
Before the two-point conversion, Newton had completed 25 of 37 passes. He had thrown for 163 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter alone.
Of his 12 incompletions Sunday, five were drops by wide receiver Devin Funchess, who had one of the worst games I’ve ever seen a Panthers receiver have. (A couple of those drops were well-defended, but still.)
Newton had good success going to his two young targets, however. He hit Moore, the rookie, seven times for 157 yards and found second-year wideout Curtis Samuel five times for 55 more. Both had scored, as had tight end Greg Olsen.
Newton’s one miscue had been an interception on an ill-advised deep throw to Samuel in double coverage. But he still sported a quarterback rating of 114.4 as he continues a season in which he seems almost certain to set several personal marks for efficiency.
And then — the throw.
First, Wright got open creatively.
“I couldn’t get by on my drag,” Wright said. “Once I saw that they did that, I just returned back to where I came from. ... I know it’s tough on a quarterback, so much going through his head. ... And I told people earlier, I’m a short guy (5-foot-10), so I’m hard to see.”
The misfire on the two-point conversion was reminiscent of the sort of passes Newton used to miss on far more often. The high throw — also once a bugaboo for Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme — was one of Newton’s trademarks early in his career. This season we have seen far less of it, as Newton is completing 68.4 percent of his passes.
Then came this throw, though. When Newton turned it loose and threw a wild pitch, he turned around and started running directly away from the play, as if to put distance between him and the throw. It was exactly the opposite direction he would have been running had he hit Wright between the numbers.
“I’m not here to cry or sob or complain,” Newton said. “I just know that our time is going to come.”
It better come soon, though. The Panthers remain in decent position for a playoff wild card, but they have almost no chance anymore of winning the NFC South with New Orleans (9-1) absolutely cruising through its season.
“It’s all right,” Newton said. “We’re going to be OK. I believe in every single person in that locker room. We’ve just got to battle back.”
Of course, that’s very similar to what the Panthers said last week.