Another late-game opportunity gone to waste as Panthers fall to Broncos

 By Zach Goins

December 13, 2020

For the seventh time this season Carolina lost a one-score game, falling 32-27 to the Denver Broncos and dropping to 4-9 on the season.

After trailing by 12 points with just over four minutes left in the game, a late-game score and a huge defensive stand set the Panthers up with yet another chance to pull off a come-from-behind victory in the fourth quarter. But as Panthers fans have come to know all too well this year, close games like those rarely end up favoring this year’s young team and new regime.

“Thought our team showed a lot of heart fighting back to give us the ball at the end with a chance to go win the game, as has happened many times this year, but just not enough execution. Too much beating ourselves to win the game,” head coach Matt Rhule said. “Ultimately, today, some key penalties really hurt us, and we weren’t able to make the plays down the stretch to go win the game.”

Here are some takeaways from Sunday’s loss:

Comeback falls short…again

Despite their record, the Panthers have played in some thrilling games this season. Sunday’s matchup was not one of them through the first three quarters. The first half was abysmal for both teams as neither offense was able to find much success in the air or on the ground. Things got significantly more exciting in the second half as Carolina and Denver both fell into a rhythm, accounting for 40 combined points in the third and fourth quarters.

“You saw an offense that really, we didn’t do anything all day,” Rhule said of his squad. “Then [the offense] had in the fourth quarter, a couple fantastic drives with tremendous tempo to go get the ball in the end zone.”

Ultimately though, the final score did not favor the Panthers, as Carolina once again failed to execute in a late-game scenario. With 2:48 left in the game, 73 yards stood between the Panthers and their fifth win of the season, but any hopes for a game-winning drive were over before they could even get started. 

On first down, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sacked for a six-yard loss. Carolina gained back eight yards on the next play, but with a critical third down looming, Bridgewater and the offense rushed to get a snap off ahead of the two-minute warning rather than take the time to think it over.

“I did not want a play run before the two-minute [warning], and just, unfortunately, we ran one right before the two-minute, that wasn’t what we wanted,” Rhule said. “I have to get that corrected.”

Bridgewater, on the other hand, called his own play and thought the team needed to hurry up and get the play off. After the game, he acknowledged the mistake, but the damage was done– the result of the miscommunication was an incompletion setting up a long fourth down that Carolina would fail to convert, cementing the loss.

Costly penalties add up

Late in the second quarter after the Panthers finally took the lead, it seemed as if the momentum was shifting in Carolina’s favor. The defense had just forced a key turnover, and now the unit had just stuffed Denver on third down. Except the play didn’t count– a questionable roughing the passer penalty on defensive end Brian Burns gifted the Broncos with a fresh set of downs. 

Then, later in the drive after Denver had moved the ball all the way down to the Carolina 4-yard line, the defense made another crucial stop. Linebacker Jermaine Carter lit up Broncos running back Melvin Gordon to force a third down, but after the big hit Carter’s excessive flexing earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that once again set Denver up with a free first down. The next play the Broncos were in the end zone and had regained the lead.

“There were three plays in the first half, three drives where a penalty extended the drive,” Rhule said. “Whether it was the holding on the play with Troy Pride, whether it was Burns, or Jermaine Carter with the taunting when we stopped them down in the red zone. So, just a lot of costly penalties in the first half.”

Not everyone agreed with all of the flags, though.

“The ref called some good calls for them on third down, basically,” cornerback Donte Jackson said. “All their drives were stopped, but they got calls on third down that helped them extend plays. I don’t think it was really nothing they [Denver] did, it was really just us. We just got to execute better.”

Rhule said at halftime that Carolina was simply beating itself by allowing penalties to extend drives, and he was right. However, that acknowledgement couldn’t keep the team from continuing to shoot itself in the foot in the second half.

Late in the fourth quarter after a huge stand by the Panthers’ defense, Denver was forced to punt from its own endzone. After the return, Carolina looked to be set up at midfield with a game-winning drive well within reach, but more yellow laundry on the field told a different story.

On the return, Natrell Jamerson was flagged for holding, which moved the Panthers’ starting field position all the way back to their own 27-yard line. Talk about flipping the field. 

“We had the ball at midfield,” Rhule said. “That ended up being like a 20 yard penalty– critical.”

Chinn does it again

The bye week didn’t seem to have any effect when it comes to slowing down Jeremy Chinn’s production. Instead, the rookie picked up right where he left off in Minnesota two weeks ago, delivering more critical, game-changing plays.

Midway through the second quarter, Chinn came off the edge and sacked Broncos quarterback Drew Lock, and in the process, forced yet another fumble. Defensive end Efe Obada scooped up the ball and rumbled 54 yards with it before he was taken down inside the 5-yard line. Two plays later, Carolina was in the endzone with a 7-6 lead over Denver. 

Despite his own personal success, though, Chinn takes no pleasure celebrating when his team continues to lose.

“The main thing is just winning,” Chinn said. “That’s all I want to do is just win. Be able to help my team win any way possible. The personal stuff, that comes secondary, so it is a bittersweet feeling.”

Chinn’s forced fumble padded the stats on both sides of the ball– marking the Broncos’ league-high 29th turnover this year, while the Panthers recorded their league-leading 13th fumble recovery of the season.

Chinn and Washington Football Team defensive end Chase Young appear to be the early favorites to take home Defensive Rookie of the Year, but after Chinn’s last two outings, it’s clear it’s his award to lose.

The Panthers visit the Green Bay Packers next Saturday, December 19 at 8:15 p.m. on NFL Network. 

Read next:

In this article