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3 Plays to Love, 3 Plays to Hate: Week 3 vs Vikings

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These key plays swung momentum and decided the Panthers' Week 3 22-10 loss to the Vikings.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

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 22-10 loss against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 3.

Three Plays to Love

1st Quarter 6:43 – Panthers 3, Vikings 0. Panthers ball 3rd-and-12 on Minnesota 36

The Situation: The Panthers faced 3rd-and-12 on the Minnesota 36, which is just beyond Graham Gano’s field goal range based on Week 1’s 50-yard miss against the Broncos and the 54-yarder he would miss later in this game.

The Play: Corey Brown ran a deep post corner route toward the left sideline. Cam Newton delivered a perfect pass just beyond the outstretched hand of the defensive back. Brown extended and made a diving catch, landing just in bounds for a 27-yard reception to the Minnesota nine yard line. This play extended a Panthers drive which culminated with a three-yard Cam Newton rushing touchdown and an early 10-0 Carolina lead.

2nd Quarter 9:49 – Panthers 10, Vikings 2. Panthers ball 4th-and-9 on Carolina 46

The Situation: The Panthers were forced to punt near midfield, giving Andy Lee a chance to pin the Vikings.

The Play: Andy Lee made yet another great special teams play by dropping his punt near the goal line and putting a perfect amount of backspin on the ball for it to pop nearly straight up in the air where Daryl Worley downed it at the five yard line. A holding call on Minnesota moved the ball to the three. Lee’s punt pinned the Vikings and forced them into a conservative three-and-out where they then punted from their own end zone. Unfortunately, the Panthers offense stalled on the next drive and Graham Gano missed a 54-yard field goal. With even minimum competence from the offense, Lee’s punt would have translated into points. As I wrote last week, Andy Lee has had at least one potential momentum-shifting punt every game thus far and has been nothing short of sensational in Carolina.

2nd Quarter 5:51 – Panthers 10, Vikings 2. Vikings ball 3rd-and-7 on Minnesota 48

The Situation: The stagnant Vikings offense started with good field position at their own 45 after Graham Gano missed a 54-yard field goal. Now facing 3rd-and-7 from their own 48, the Vikings were looking to sustain a drive for the first time in the game.

The Play: New arrival defensive end Lavar Edwards lined up on the left side of Carolina’s line and simply overpowered Minnesota’s tackle. Edwards’ bull rush allowed him to make a leaping sack of Sam Bradford, swallowing up the Vikings quarterback for an eight yard loss and forcing a punt. One of the reasons this was a play to love is because the Panthers front four has been so poor at generating pressure that it was refreshing to see an explosive play coming from the defensive line.

Three Plays to Hate

2nd Quarter 10:33 – Panthers 10, Vikings 2. Panthers ball 3rd-and-11 on Carolina 44

The Situation: Carolina’s offense was nearing midfield and faced third and long, looking to build on their 10-2 lead.

The Play: Cam Newton dropped to pass and checked down to Fozzy Whittaker on a short pass down the right sideline. Whittaker caught the pass, made a beautiful cut, then turned on the jets. Whittaker motored 56 yards down the sideline for an apparent touchdown. But the play was called back on a Kelvin Benjamin illegal block after he blatantly shoved a Vikings defender from behind. Coach Rivera was understandably upset with KB and the Panthers coach could be seen snarling something to the effect of, "Get him out!" after the play. Rivera glared at Benjamin as the WR took a seat on the bench on 3rd-and-11. Instead of taking a commanding 17-2 lead, Benjamin’s penalty killed the drive and forced a punt.

2nd Quarter 3:37 – Panthers 10, Vikings 2. Panthers ball 4th-and-6 on Carolina 6

The Situation: After a three-and-out, the Panthers were forced to punt from the back of their own end zone.

The Play: Andy Lee’s punt was fielded by Marcus Sherels in the middle of the field at the Minnesota 46. Gunner Colin Jones was forced out of bounds while sprinting down field and never got back in position to make a play on Sherels. Daryl Worley shed his blockers but came in too fast to gather himself and react to Sherels after he caught the punt and cut left. Sherels found a seam and sprinted untouched down the sideline for a 54-yard touchdown. Kicker Blair Walsh missed the extra point and the Panthers lead was cut to 10-8 despite Minnesota’s offense gaining just 35 yards thus far.

4th Quarter 13:14 – Panthers 10, Vikings 19. Panthers ball 1st-and-10 on Carolina 25

The Situation: The Panthers trailed by nine early in the fourth quarter and desperately needed a score after going safety, punt, missed field goal, punt, interception, punt, interception on their previous seven drives. (Just read that sentence again. Or don’t. It’s depressing.)

The Play(s): I’m picking on Michael Oher here as the embodiment of all of the penalties and sacks the Panthers offense gave up, but Oher was not alone. These back-to-back plays were killers though. On first down Oher was called for holding, forcing 1st-and-19 from the Carolina 16. On the next play he was smoked off the edge by Everson Griffen who sacked Cam Newton for nine yard loss. Because of Oher, Carolina now faced 2nd-and-29 on from their own six yard line. The Panthers were forced to punt from deep in their own territory, giving Minnesota good field position which they converted into a field goal and a 22-10 lead, which turned out to be the final score.

Closing it out & Summing it up

Ugh. What an ugly, deflating, frustrating game. After a quick start scoring 10 points in their first two possessions, the Panthers offense was thoroughly dominated by the Vikings defense.

The Panthers receivers were unable to get separation while the offensive line was overpowered, resulting in eight sacks and three interceptions. Minnesota’s defense adjusted after the first two drives while Mike Shula and the Carolina offense simply had no answers. The listless Panthers scored zero points on their final 10 drives of the game.

After a strong start to the season, Kelvin Benjamin was downright awful. He was targeted just once and finished with zero receptions. He committed two penalties, including the one that brought back Fozzy Whittaker’s long TD reception.

Defensively, the Panthers front four continues to stuff the run but fails to get pressure on the quarterback. Per, the Panthers recorded just three QB Hits on Sam Bradford, and two of those came from linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Minnesota’s defense, on the other hand, recorded 12 QB Hits against Cam Newton.

The Panthers are a disappointing 1-2, but it’s a long season and there is still ample time to right the ship. Don’t hit the panic button just yet.

But unless the Carolina offense can start protecting Cam Newton and the defensive line can get pressure on the quarterback, this Panthers team will top out at "good" but be far from "great."

"P2L, P2H" Season Leaders

Plays to Love: Cam Newton (2), Corey Brown (1), Andy Lee (1), Lavar Edwards (1), Charles Johnson (1), Shaq Thompson (1), Greg Olsen (1), Kelvin Benjamin (1), Vernon Butler (1), Star Lotulelei (1), Thomas Davis (1), Kurt Coleman (1), Bene Benwikere (1)

Plays to Hate: Kelvin Benjamin (1), Colin Jones (1), Daryl Worley (1), Michael Oher (1), James Bradberry (1), Ted Ginn (1), Luke Kuechly (1), Bene Benwikere (1), Kurt Coleman (1), Ryan Kalil (1), Graham Gano (1)