Plays to Love, Plays to Hate (aka "P2L, P2H") looks at the most significant plays in swinging momentum and impacting the eventual outcome of the game. There is always plenty to hate about NFL officiating, so we will only focus on the plays on the field, not the refs. This week we look at the positive and negative moments that had the biggest impact on the Carolina Panthers' 46-27 win against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 2.
Three Plays to Love
1st Quarter 4:14 – Panthers 0, 49ers 3. 49ers ball 2nd-and-7 on San Francisco 15
The Situation: The Panthers trailed 3-0 early and their offense had started with a Cam Newton interception followed by a punt. The 49ers were starting their second offensive possession, looking to add to their lead.
The Play: Starting on the San Francisco 15, Carlos Hyde took a handoff up the middle where he was stripped by Charles Johnson. The ball was batted backward (toward the end zone) as Shaq Thompson alertly emerged from the scrum to scoop up the ball and leap for a touchdown. Thompson’s play put Carolina’s first points on the board for a 7-3 lead.
2nd Quarter 9:52 – Panthers 7, 49ers 10. Panthers ball 1st-and-10 on Carolina 22
The Situation: The 49ers had just taken a 10-7 lead and the Panthers offense was sputtering, going interception-punt-fumble.
The Play: On the first play following San Francisco’s touchdown, Greg Olsen lined up on the right side of the line. Olsen ran straight up the seam facing man-to-man coverage by Antoine Bethea. Olsen gave a fake with his head and shoulders like he would break to his right (toward the sideline) and Bethea bit. Olsen then broke left on a skinny post and ended up wide open streaking down the middle of the field. Newton hit him in stride with a perfect pass, and Olsen sprinted untouched for a career-long 78-yard touchdown. The huge play jumpstarted the Panthers offense and put them back in the lead 14-10.
3rd Quarter 10:09 – Panthers 17, 49ers 10. Panthers ball 3rd-and-7 on San Francisco 36
The Situation: Carolina was on the fringes of field goal range and facing 3rd-and-7 as they looked to add to their 17-10 third quarter lead.
The Play: Kelvin Benjamin lined up wide right with Jimmie Ward in man coverage. Kelvin ran a streak and Ward blanketed him with tight coverage. Benjamin turned to make the catch and the ball bounced off his hands, then Ward also got his hand on it. Kelvin was now falling to the ground as he reached out with his left hand to secure a one-handed catch as he landed flat on his back. Benjamin picked up 25 yards to extend the drive. KB then scored a touchdown two plays later for a 24-10 Panthers lead. Benjamin used all of his size, strength, and athleticism to make this incredible play.
Three Plays to Hate
2nd Quarter 10:10 – Panthers 7, 49ers 3. 49ers ball 2nd-and-9 on Carolina 28
The Situation: Carolina held a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter. The 49ers had put together a good drive to set up 2nd-and-9 on the Carolina 28.
The Play: Torrey Smith lined up wide right with rookie James Bradberry in man coverage. Carolina rushed four, but the D-line got absolutely no pressure on Blaine Gabbert, allowing San Francisco’s QB to stand like a statue in a perfect pocket. Smith ran a simple post route against Bradberry as safety Tre Boston came forward to shadow tight end Vance McDonald. Smith quickly separated from Bradberry and with no safety help, Smith was wide open for an easy 28-yard TD. Bradberry, the rookie, got exposed by the veteran. Terrible play all around by the Panthers D, from the front four to the secondary as San Francisco went up 10-7.
4th Quarter 12:38 – Panthers 31, 49ers 13. 49ers Kickoff Following FG
The Situation: The 49ers had just made a field goal to trim the Panthers lead to 31-13. San Francisco was kicking off with Ted Ginn back as the return man.
The Play: Phil Dawson’s kickoff landed at the five yard line. Ginn did not come up fast enough to field the ball in the air, so the ball landed at his feet and took an awkward bounce. Ginn then nonchalantly attempted to pick the ball up off the turf instead of jumping on it. But before Ginn could recover the ball, San Francisco gunner Shaun Draughn came flying downfield and fell on the muffed kick. The 49ers scored a TD on the next play. In a matter of 12 seconds, the Panthers commanding 31-10 lead had been cut to 31-20. The absolutely terrible special teams play by Ginn gave the struggling 49ers offense new life. Ginn’s miscue could go down as one of the worst plays of the year.
4th Quarter 8:03 – Panthers 34, 49ers 20. 49ers ball 2nd-and-10 on San Francisco 25
The Situation: After a Graham Gano field goal, the 49ers trailed 34-20 with just 8:03 remaining. A stop by the Panther defense could have put the game away.
The Play: Tight end Vance McDonald lined up left and ran a simple post corner route. Thomas Davis bypassed McDonald to cover a running back leaking into the flat. After Davis went underneath, Luke Kuechly was just a step slow getting to McDonald. McDonald stayed three steps ahead of the trailing Kuechly and hauled in a long pass, heading toward the left sideline. McDonald then just turned on the jets – surprising given his size – and sprinted down the sideline. Daryl Worley slipped and fell as he turned to purse McDonald, and safety Kurt Coleman could not get the angle to track him down as McDonald rumbled for a shocking 75-yard TD. Suddenly, and almost inexplicably, the Panthers lead was cut to just 34-27 with less than eight minutes remaining.
Closing It Out & Summing It Up
But the Panthers were able to close the game out, thanks to two Graham Gano field goals, interceptions by Luke Kuechly and James Bradberry, and a Devin Funchess touchdown. The final score of 46-27 fails to show how close this game was after the Panthers crumbled in the fourth quarter with turnovers and blown defensive assignments.
Carolina is now 1-1 on the season. Cam looks like the MVP. Kelvin Benjamin (7-108-2) is overpowering. Greg Olsen (5-122-1) is consistently great. Jonathan Stewart left in the first quarter and did not return, but Fozzy Whittaker responded with a career-high 100 rushing yards plus another 31 through the air. Andy Lee's beautiful punt to pin the 49ers at the two yard line near the end of the first half was spectacular.
Luke Kuechly (11 tackles, one interception) is the best linebacker in football. Rookie James Bradberry is up and down, but seems to be progressing.
This Panthers team has all it needs for another deep playoff run.
"P2L, P2H" Season Leaders
Plays to Love: Charles Johnson (1), Shaq Thompson (1), Greg Olsen (1), Kelvin Benjamin (1), Vernon Butler (1), Star Lotulelei (1), Thomas Davis (1), Cam Newton (1), Kurt Coleman (1), Bene Benwikere (1)
Plays to Hate: James Bradberry (1), Ted Ginn (1), Luke Kuechly (1), Bene Benwikere (1), Kurt Coleman (1), Ryan Kalil (1), Graham Gano (1)