How did the Panthers manage to blow that one?
In a game that seemed to be played almost entirely inside the Seattle defense’s red zone, the Carolina Panthers still managed to lose 30-27 to the Seahawks on Sunday.
The Panthers (6-5) lost for the third time in a row and the first time in their past 11 games at Bank of America Stadium. The defeat came in large part because Carolina misfired on so many scoring opportunities inside the Seattle 20. Carolina theoretically left 22 points on the board in the red zone — coming up empty twice (14 points lost) and then settling for field goals two other times.
“Just a brutal way to end the game,” tight end Greg Olsen said later. “The red zone stuff killed us.”
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The Panthers lost the ball on downs in the first quarter inside Seattle’s 5 when a fourth-and-1 sneak by Cam Newton didn’t gain the necessary yardage (although Newton thought he did). Later, Newton — who had thrown 16 touchdown passes inside the red zone and not a single interception this season — threw an end-zone pick. On two other occasions, Carolina twice had to settle for short Graham Gano field goals on drives that could have resulted in TDs.
Then, on the Panthers’ final drive, Carolina couldn’t get into the red zone for the first time in six possessions. The Panthers sent Gano on to attempt a 52-yard field goal with 1:45 left. But it was wide right with the score tied at 27-all, breaking Gano’s streak of 41 consecutive field goals at home. It was Gano’s third huge miss in the past two games (he missed an extra point and a 34-yard field goal at Detroit).
That set the Seahawks up at their 42. One 43-yard pass to Tyler Lockett later and the Seahawks — 6-5 and now holding the playoff tiebreaker edge over Carolina — were running out the clock to get a final-play, 31-yard field goal from Sebastian Janikowski.
The Panthers offense moved the ball up and down the field with the regularity of a teenager going to the refrigerator and opening it up to look aimlessly at the contents. Running back Christian McCaffrey had a monster game, gaining more than 100 yards both rushing and receiving and scoring twice while setting a franchise record for yards from scrimmage in a game (239).
And rookie wide receiver DJ Moore (eight catches, 91 yards) has clearly become the team’s best wide receiver over the past two weeks, with a run-after-the-catch mentality very reminiscent of Steve Smith’s. But the Panthers got no points on their final drive as Moore couldn’t break a tackle on third down. Then Gano missed from 52 and the Seahawks scored three on their own last drive, and that was the difference.
▪ I thought that Seattle’s fourth-quarter “fumble that turned out not be a fumble” recovered by Luke Kuechly should have stayed a turnover. Kuechly had three officiating calls go against him on that drive, as he also was called for a 15-yard facemask penalty that he vociferously protested and then made a fourth-and-1 tackle that resulted in a first down by inches. In general, though, this was vintage Kuechly on Sunday. He was everywhere. He just didn’t have enough help.
▪ Janikowski is somehow only 40 years old, although he moves more like he’s 60. The Seahawks list Janikowski at 260 pounds, which means he has Kuechly by 22 pounds. But he was perfect Sunday. “Shout out to Janikowski for being a stone cold killer,” Seahawks center Justin Britt said afterward.
▪ No way to make this decision in real time, but Captain Munnerlyn actually should have allowed Tyler Lockett to score on Seattle’s 43-yard pass with 1:07 to go once Lockett caught the ball. If Munnerlyn had done that, the Panthers offense would have had a minute left to try to score a matching touchdown. As it was, Seattle just held the ball until attempting a field goal with four seconds to play.
▪ Carolina lost rookie cornerback Donte Jackson on the first play of scrimmage with a quad injury. That hurt the Panthers in pass coverage. Most obviously, replacement cornerback Corn Elder never turned around on a fourth-quarter, fourth-and-3, 35-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to David Moore that tied the game at 27-all. If Elder makes that play, with Carolina up 27-20 at the time, the Panthers win.
▪ Most acrobatic play of the day: Seattle running back Chris Carson tried to leap over Carolina safety Eric Reid. Instead, Reid came up quickly, and Carson did a full somersault in the air — and somehow landed on his feet, still carrying the ball. He was tackled quickly after that, but it was still very cat-like.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Reid said. Reid didn’t even understand what happened, he said, until he saw the replay.