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Panthers come up short on game-tying field goal against the Saints

 By Zach Goins

October 25, 2020

Another week, another Panthers game coming down to the wire. 

However, once again, the result did not end up in Carolina’s favor, as the Panthers fell to the Saints 27-24 in New Orleans. The loss drops the Panthers’ record to 3-4 on the season, while New Orleans moves to 4-2 and into a tie atop the NFC South.

“We were a few plays away, but in this league a few plays away gets you beat,” quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. “We left a couple plays out there today, a couple big plays. You leave too many plays against a team like that, you get beat.”

Carolina’s offense was able to correct the third-down and red zone issues the team faced last week, but the defense struggled to get off the field against the Saints. 

Here are some takeaways from Sunday’s game:

A game of inches

With two minutes left in the game, Carolina found themselves trailing 27-24 and facing a fourth-and-19 from the New Orleans 47-yard line after a sack of Bridgewater. No matter what decision head coach Matt Rhule made, they would both be equally desperate. The choice came down to drawing up a creative play and praying for a conversion, or attempting an NFL record 65-yard field goal. Rhule opted to gamble on the leg of kicker Joey Slye, who lined up on Carolina’s own 45-yard line.

“Obviously, it’s not ideal. We had the ball down at the 35 [yard line] and took that sack. That sack was a fatal blow there,” Rhule said. 

If Slye’s kick had been from 64 yards out, the Panthers would have knotted things up at 27. Instead, the kick fell inches short, and so did the Panthers chances at victory.

“Stance was good, chest was good, swung through the ball, had great extension,” Slye said of his process on the kick. “Nitpicking, I could have maybe hit a little bit more middle seam, which would have drove the ball a bit better. There’s a bunch of little nuances, but the fact that the ball was dead center on the post means that timing was usually pretty good.”

Once the ball left his foot, Slye thought the kick was going to be good.

“I liked that ball,” Slye said. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is going to be good by at least two or three.’ It just came up short and I wasn’t expecting it. I thought it was good.”

Following the miss, the Saints took over possession and ran out the rest of the clock to secure the win.

Spider Burns strikes again

Early in the second quarter things were at risk of getting out of hand. New Orleans was already leading 14-7 and closing in on scoring another touchdown.

Brian Burns had other plans.

The defensive end sped his way past the Saints’ left tackle and crashed into Brees, recording his third strip-sack of the season. Fellow defensive end Marquis Haynes dove on the ball, recovering it for the Panthers and halting the Saints’ momentum. 

The turnover proved to be one of the biggest plays of the first half for the Panthers, as Carolina then drove 65 yards down the field to score a touchdown and take a 17-14 lead.

DJ Moore’s offensive explosion

Panthers wide receiver DJ Moore only had four catches, but he certainly made them count. Moore found the end zone twice against the Saints, including once on a 74-yard bomb from Bridgewater in the second quarter. 

“It was a play that was unexpected, but expected when we went out there,” Moore said of his long touchdown. “When we hit the big touchdown it got us going a little bit.”

Moore wasn’t the only wideout to turn in an impressive outing on Sunday. Curtis Samuel, in his first game since Week 5, hauled in six passes for 48 yards, and also found the end zone on a 5-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Three of Samuel’s catches came on third down, bringing his total on the year to 14 third-down grabs.

“We just added another speedster on the field,” Moore said of Samuel’s return. “Another playmaker that the other team has to account for.”

Bridgewater was happy to have Samuel back on the field, too. 

“Curtis is a guy who shows up for us,” Bridgewater said. “You saw him score a touchdown from the backfield, you see him make big catches on third down, so to have him out on the field, he’s a huge asset to this team.”

Wide receiver Robby Anderson, who entered the game second in the league in receiving yards, had a solid performance, too, finishing the day with six catches for 74 yards.

Saints prove near unstoppable on third down

The Panthers have had plenty of trouble on third down this season– but most of them have come when Carolina is on offense. This week, it was the Panthers defense that struggled on third down.

Time and time again, the Saints converted on third down, finishing the day 12 of 14. The constant conversions allowed New Orleans to extend drives and dominate the time of possession battle, holding a 35:41 to 25:19 advantage.

“They just executed better than we did. There’s no reason, we’ve just got to do better,” linebacker Shaq Thompson said of Carolina’s third down struggles. “We’ve got to get off the field, get our offense the ball back.”

It’s not like New Orleans was simply converting easy third-and-shorts, though. A quick pass on third-and-14 allowed Saints running back Alvin Kamara to scamper all the way for the first down, and a few plays later an intricate triple pass resulted in another conversion.

“They did a great job of converting some third-and-longs. Kamara made it tough, they won versus man-to-man,” Rhule said of the Saints’ success. “When you play Drew Brees, you have to know that he’s going to be efficient. He was efficient and we didn’t make the plays or call the plays to get them off the field.”

Finally, late in the third quarter, Carolina’s defense was bailed out by an offensive pass interference call that negated a third-down touchdown pass and instead set New Orleans up with a third-and-13. At long last, the Panthers made a rare stop, and forced the Saints to settle for a field goal.

The Panthers take on the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday, October 29 in Charlotte on NFL Network. 

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