Little-big plays are the plays that may not stand out in the box score, but go a long way to winning – or losing –a game. Little-big plays extend drives that lead to scores, turn field goals into touchdowns, or flip field position. On the other hand, negative little-big plays can abruptly end drives and take points off the board.
Here are the little-big plays that helped the Carolina Panthers beat the Green Bay Packers in Week 9 of the 2015 NFL season.
Positive plays from Panther players are marked with a plus-sign and negative plays with a minus-sign, with the players' cumulative season totals for each type of play listed by his name. For example, if on the year Cam Newton has posted six positive little-big plays and three negative plays, it would show (+6, -3).
13:03– Panthers 0, Packers 0. CAR ball 1st-and-10 on CAR 44. Greg Olsen (+5, -3) made an incredible, one-handed, left-handed, spinning grab near the sideline, then sprinted for a 33-yard gain. The great catch set up a field goal for the Panthers to jump out to a 3-0 lead.
5:02– Panthers 3, Packers 0. GB ball 3rd-and-12 on CAR 49. Green Bay faced 3rd-and-12 near midfield. Davante Adams beat Charles Tillman (+1, -4) on an out route to make a diving catch near the sideline. The 13-yard gain for a first down was the little-big play in a drive that ended with a Richard Rodgers touchdown reception and a 7-3 Green Bay lead.
13:42– Panthers 3, Packers 7. CAR ball 3rd-and-16 on CAR 26. The Packers rushed three and dropped eight into zone coverage on 3rd-and-16. Right tackle Mike Remmers ended up one-on-one against Julius Peppers and pushed him wide and behind the pocket, allowing Cam Newton to step up and hit a wide open Jerricho Cotchery for a 59-yard catch-and-run. Two plays later, Cam Newton scored on a leaping touchdown for a 10-7 Panthers lead. Remmers’(+2, -2) little-big block set up the big play that set up the score.
10:19– Panthers 10, Packers 7. CAR ball 1st-and-10 on CAR 38. After a Green Bay three-and-out, Devin Funchess ran a go route with Davante Adams in coverage. Cam (+9, -8) threw a perfect deep ball and the rookie wide receiver made a spectacular catch with Adams draped all over him (and interfering before the ball arrived) as Funchess (+2, -1) hauled in a 52-yard gain. Two plays later, Newton hit Greg Oslen for a touchdown and a 17-7 Panthers lead.
5:54– Panthers 17, Packers 7. CAR ball 2nd-and-7 on GB 35. Greg Olsen ran free on a deep seam route and was uncovered as he streaked toward the end zone. Cam Newton (+9, -9) had good protection but overthrew Oslen on what should have been an easy touchdown, forcing the Panthers to settle for a field goal and costing Carolina four points.
3:59– Panthers 20, Packers 7. CAR ball 3rd-and-11 on GB 25.Two plays after the field goal, Charles Tillman (+2, -4) stripped Eddie Lacy, giving Carolina great field position. But on 3rd-and-11, Cam Newton (+9, -10) threw behind an open Ted Ginn on a slant for what would have been a first down. Graham Gano (+1, -2) then missed a 43-yard field goal. The Panthers just took points off the board on back-to-back possessions.
:41– Panthers 20, Packers 7. CAR ball 3rd-and-7 on GB 39. Cam Newton hit Philly Brown for a beautiful 39-yard touchdown, but the little-big play setting up the score was Greg Olsen’s (+6 ,-3) key block picking up a blitzing safety, giving Newton time to make the pass and extend the lead to 27-7.
:19– Panthers 27, Packers 7. GB ball 1st-and-10 on CAR 41. With Green Bay driving to get in position for a late field goal, Thomas Davis (+5, -2) blitzed right up the middle and dropped Aaron Rodgers for an eight yard sack. The play pushed the Packers well out of field goal range, and Green Bay did not score to end the half.
15:00– Panthers 27, Packers 7. GB ball 1st-and-10 on CAR 20. On the first play of the second half, tight end Richard Rodgers beat Roman Harper in coverage for a six-yard gain. Harper (+2, -4) rode Rodgers out of bounds then committed a stupid 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty for slamming Rodgers to the ground well after Rodgers was out of bounds. With the penalty the Packers suddenly had the ball at their own 42. Two plays later Randall Cobb burned Bene Benwikere (+1, -2) for a 53-yard touchdown on a wheel route. In the blink of an eye, Harper and Benwikere zapped most of the momentum Carolina had built going into the half as Green Bay cut the lead to 27-14.
7:11– Panthers 27, Packers 14. CAR ball 3rd-and-7 on GB 31. The next two drives ended in punts by both the Panthers and Packers. Halfway through the third quarter, Carolina had driven to the Green Bay 31 and faced a 3rd-and-7. Jonathan Stewart took a handoff off the right end, and Greg Olsen (+7, -3) delivered a perfect block to seal the edge and pave the way for an eight-yard gain and a first down. Four plays later, Cam Newton (+9, -11) missed a wide open Jerricho Cotchery on a quick out route near the goal line for what should have been an easy touchdown. For the second time on the day, the Panthers had to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown because of an inaccurate throw by Cam.
1:38– Panthers 30, Packers 14. GB ball 2nd-and-10 on GB 48. The Packers ran a screen and Roman Harper read it perfectly to break into the backfield and drop James Starks for a four yard loss. Green Bay did not convert on 3rd-and-14, and Harper’s(+3, -4) play effectively ended the drive.
14:23– Panthers 30, Packers 14. CAR ball 3rd-and-8 on CAR 14. Cam Newton scrambled up the middle to barley convert on third down. The measurement showed Newton literally got the first by two inches. But the Packers challenged the spot and after review the ball was moved back and the Panthers now faced fourth-and-inches instead of having a first down. There appeared to be little video evidence to overturn the original spot and Fox’s Troy Aikman said, "I didn’t think they were going to overturn that." But the officials did, and the Panthers were forced to punt. Game of inches.
12:30– Panthers 30, Packers 14. GB ball 3rd-and-4 on GB 46. Kony Ealy (+4, -3) dropped Aaron Rodgers for a seven yard loss, forcing a Packers punt on a huge three-and-out for the Carolina D.
10:21– Panthers 30, Packers 14. CAR ball 2nd-and-6 at 50. Greg Olsen ran a deep route and beat Damarious Randall. Cam underthrew Olsen (+8, -3) and the veteran tight end did a great job coming back for the ball, forcing contact with Randall, and drawing a 34-yard pass interference. Three plays later, Devin Funchess hauled in a 14-yard touchdown, extending the Panthers lead to 37-14.
6:34– Panthers 37, Packers 22. CAR ball 3rd-and-5 on CAR 25. After a Green Bay touchdown and two-point conversion, Carolina faced a three-and-out. Cam Newton threw to Devin Funchess for what would have been a first down. Damarious Randall clearly interfered with Funchess, wrapping up his left arm before the ball arrived and the pass fell incomplete. Troy Aikman commented, "Looked like Randall got a hold of the left arm well before the ball got there, contact was made. They get away with it." But the officials did not call the penalty, and the Panthers were forced to punt.
5:05– Panthers 37, Packers 22. GB ball 4th-and-14 on GB 44. Facing fourth-and-long, the game is likely over if Green Bay does not convert. Aaron Rodgers dodged a Panthers blitz, scrambled seemingly forever, then heaved a deep jump ball. Both Josh Norman and James Jones leaped to high-point the ball, and it was Jones who came down with it for a 36-yard gain. The miraculous play for the Packers reminded me a lot of David Tyree’s helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII. The Packers scored a touchdown two plays later, cutting the lead to 37-29.
3:43– Panthers 37, Packers 29. CAR ball 1st-and-10 on CAR 20. On the first play from scrimmage after the Packers touchdown, Cam Newton (+9, -12) threw behind Ted Ginn on an out route and the pass was intercepted by Damarious Randall who bobbled the ball on the sideline. Ginn made a heady play by slapping at the ball, nearly breaking up Randall’s catch as he went out of bounds. The play went under review and after a long, long, long time, and the interception was upheld. Once again, a key debatable call went against the Panthers. Green Bay was now suddenly just 22 yards away from potentially tying the game.
2:23– Panthers 37, Packers 29. GB ball 3rd-and-Goal on CAR 9. The Packers were threatening to score when the pocket collapsed and Aaron Rodgers scrambled up the middle. Roman Harper made a great play by releasing his coverage assignment when he saw Rodgers tuck the ball, and Harper (+4, -4) made a potentially touchdown-saving tackle at the four yard line.
2:00– Panthers 37, Packers 29. GB ball 4th-and-Goal on CAR 4. On fourth down, Kawann Short (+6, -1) got immediate pressure on Rodgers, forcing him to throw off his back foot while retreating. Rodger’s pass lacked zip, and Thomas Davis (+6, -2) was able to make a leaping interception to seal the Panthers win. If Short had not pressured Rodgers resulting in Davis’ interception, Green Bay would have almost certainly scored a touchdown. Randall Cobb was left completely uncovered in the end zone after blatant pick by James Jones flattened Kurt Coleman who was covering Cobb. Aikman watched the replay and said, "You could have called them for a pick…no flag." Despite another yet another 50/50-type penalty helping the Panthers opponent, Carolina closed out the game for a huge win.
But forget the refs.
Forget the "The Panthers haven’t beaten anybody" national narrative. This team is for real.
The Panthers are now 13-1 over their last 14 games going back to last season, playoffs included.
8-0 is a wonderful feeling.