Poor game management leads to Panthers last-second loss to the Vikings

By Zach Goins

November 29, 2020

Photo: Jim Mone/AP

Nearly every game the Panthers have played this season has come down to the wire, and Sunday’s matchup against the Vikings was no different.  

In typical Panthers fashion, Carolina suffered another heartbreaking defeat as Minnesota pulled off a 28-27 come-from-behind victory.

For fans searching for somewhere to point a finger and place blame, head coach Matt Rhule said to look no further than himself and the rest of the coaching staff.

“I’ve always tried to be really honest and real and direct about where I think the fault is, and I think as a coaching staff, we didn’t get the job done today,” Rhule said. “I always try to look and see where the fault lies, and today I put it squarely on us as a staff which starts with me.”

Here are some takeaways from Sunday’s loss:

Absolute meltdown

With under six minutes left in Sunday’s game, the Panthers led the Vikings by 11 points. Then, that lead disappeared quicker than the last piece of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. 

Minnesota added a touchdown and a two-point conversion to pull within three points, and the defense even forced Carolina to punt the ball back to them, but then disaster struck for the Vikings. Return man Chad Beebe muffed the kick and the Panthers recovered on the Minnesota 9-yard line. With 2:10 left on the clock and a three-point lead, a lucky break like that is enough to clench victory for most teams.

Not the Panthers. 

In the ensuing three plays the Panthers only managed to chew 19– that’s right, 19– seconds off the clock and failed to reach the end zone, instead settling for a field goal and a six-point lead. The Vikings offense proceeded to slice through Carolina’s defense with ease, covering 75 yards in just 65 seconds before Beebe redeemed himself and hauled in the game-winning touchdown.

“I don’t really have too many words,” defensive tackle Zach Kerr said of the final drive. “They went 75 yards to win the game and that’s unacceptable by us.”

The Panthers never looked particularly good or bad in the first half, but the excitement from two defensive touchdowns and a few big plays in the second half was enough to mask the fact that Carolina’s offense had once again hit a wall and the game management wasn’t doing the team any favors.

Nowhere was that more evident than on the third-and-goal play following the muffed punt. With 1:56 left on the clock, Minnesota was out of timeouts, but rather than run the ball and chew more clock, Carolina opted for a pass which fell incomplete. After the game, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said there was serious confusion surrounding the play, which appeared rushed.

“I feel like we might have panicked a little bit trying to figure out what play call to call in that situation,” Bridgewater said. “We were against the clock. We just had to rush into it. I think if we would have gotten the play call in or if we would have been able to make a decision sooner on what call to make, I think we see them up, we check to a run play, and hopefully we score.”


Safety-linebacker hybrid Jeremy Chinn has quietly established himself as Carolina’s best defender this season, and along the way he’s created a resume worthy of winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. That resume got another boost on Sunday.

If seven first-half tackles and a quarterback hit weren’t enough, Chinn delivered two of his biggest plays of the season to start the third quarter. Defensive tackle Zach Kerr sacked Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and knocked the ball loose, which Chinn scooped up and returned 17 yards for a touchdown. Then, on the very next play from scrimmage, he did it again. Chinn stripped the ball from running back Dalvin Cook and returned that one to the house, too. 

Suddenly Carolina went from trailing by three points to leading by 11. 

“The moment was fun,” Chinn said. “No other way to explain the moment– it was fun, it was exciting. I haven’t scored a touchdown since high school, so that was cool getting back in the end zone.”

Chinn took home Defensive Rookie of the Month honors in October, but now his sights are set on a bigger prize. Two touchdowns in a span of 10 seconds should be enough to help his case. Chinn became the first player in the Super Bowl era with two fumble recovery touchdowns in the same game. 

Chinn finished the game with a team-high 13 tackles.

Bridgewater looks rusty

After missing last week with a knee injury, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater made his return to the starting lineup– and to Minnesota, where he was selected as a first-round pick back in 2014.

Whether it was nerves surrounding his homecoming or rust from missing a week, it was clear that something was off with Bridgewater in the first half. Prior to his final throw of the first half– a 41-yard touchdown to wide receiver Robby Anderson– Bridgewater had completed just 6-of-14 passes for 55 yards and an interception. Bridgewater took a page out of his backup P.J. Walker’s book as his pick came in the red zone, but Bridgewater’s biggest missed opportunity came when he overthrew a wide-open DJ Moore and missed a touchdown. 

The touchdown to Anderson served as a spark to close out the first half, though, and Bridgewater carried that momentum into the third quarter. Bridgewater finished the game 19-of-36 for 267 yards, but it wasn’t enough to pull Carolina to a win.

Bridgewater appeared to suffer an injury to his left arm on the final offensive play of Sunday’s game, but said that it was nothing major.

Containing Dalvin Cook

Entering Sunday’s matchup, Minnesota boasted the sixth-best rushing offense in the league, led by Cook and his 1,069 rushing yards (2nd). For the most part, though, Carolina was able to keep Cook in check.

The running back finished the day with just 61 yards on 18 attempts, well short of his 118-yard average. Despite the pride that may come with slowing down one of the league’s best backs, any moral victory was erased by the Vikings’ final 75-yard game-winning drive.

“We just have to finish,” Chinn said. “I feel like I say that all the time, but we can’t let our opponent breathe. We’re playing good as a defense and we’ve just got to keep it going and put the nail in the coffin.”

The Panthers have a bye next week, and will host the Denver Broncos on Sunday, December 13 at 1 p.m. in Charlotte. 

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