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.
Plays to Love
1st Quarter 4:42 – Panthers 0, 49ers 0. 49ers ball 2nd-and-8 at SF 48
The Situation: The 49ers second possession was gaining momentum and nearing midfield. The 49ers offensive line was opening up big holes and Carlos Hyde had already rushed three times for 21 yards.
The Play: Wes Horton beat his man to strip-sack Brian Hoyer, and the fumble was recovered by Star Lotulelei at the San Francisco 42. The turnover killed San Francisco’s early momentum and would ultimately set up Carolina’s first score.
1st Quarter 3:10 – Panthers 0, 49ers 0. Panthers ball 3rd-and-8 at SF 40
The Situation: After Horton’s strip-sack, the Panthers faced third and long just outside of field goal range.
The Play: New free agent addition Russell Shepard ran a deep route from right to left and caught the pass at the 21 with his momentum carrying him toward the sideline. Safety Jaquiski Tartt was in pursuit to push Shepard out of bounds. But Shepard hit the brakes, did a 360 spin, made Tartt whiff on the tackle, then sprinted into the end zone for a 7-0 Panthers lead. Welcome to Carolina, Mr. Shepard!
3rd Quarter 14:33 – Panthers 13, 49ers 0. 49ers ball 1st-and-10 at SF 39
The Situation: The 49ers were shut out in the first half and received the ball to start the third quarter. Desperately needing to start generating some offense, Brian Hoyer dropped to pass on the second play of the half.
The Play: Luke Kuechly read Hoyer’s eyes and undercut the pass intended for TE George Kittle. Kuechly intercepted the pass and returned the pick 23 yards down to the San Francisco 28. Five plays later, Cam Newton hit Jonathan Steward for a touchdown and an insurmountable 20-0 Panthers lead. Luke’s instincts are so incredible that it seems like he sees into the future just a second or two ahead of us mere mortals, allowing him to always be ahead of the play.
Plays to Hate
2nd Quarter 10:03 – Panthers 7, 49ers 0. Panthers ball 1st-and-10 at SF 45
The Situation: Carolina was sustaining a nice six-play drive and had crossed into San Francisco territory. With a fresh set of downs, it looked like the Panthers would soon be entering field goal range.
The Play: Cam threw a 45-yard bomb to the end zone intended for Kelvin Benjamin, and the pass was intercepted by Jaquiski Tartt. It was a “Play to Hate” for several reasons. First, Cam made a bad decision forcing the pass to KB despite tight man coverage with safety help over the top. Second, the ball was underthrown where the DBs could get to it. Can’t blame the shoulder on this one.
2nd Quarter 3:38 – Panthers 7, 49ers 0. Panthers ball 2nd-and-6 at SF 21
The Situation: The Panthers had gone to Christian McCaffrey on four straight plays as they neared the red zone, including a huge 15-yard screen pass on 3rd-and-12 to sustain the drive. Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula was setting up the 49ers defense to focus on the rookie RB.
The Play: On a beautiful play design, both McCaffrey and Ed Dickson ran routes on the right side of the field. McCaffrey drew three defenders and Dickson was left completely uncovered as he ran toward the end zone. There wasn’t a single 49ers defender within fifteen feet of the wide open Dickson and it should have been an easy-as-pie TD, but Cam overthrew Dickson by 10 feet. Cam’s ugly ball wasn’t even close and the Panthers had to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown.
4th Quarter 13:49 – Panthers 23, 49ers 3. Panthers ball 1st-and-10 at CAR 39
The Situation: The Panthers were in total control of the game early in the fourth quarter. Looking to keep the clock moving, Carolina continued to pound the run.
The Play: Christian McCaffrey took a handoff left and was immediately drilled in the backfield by K’Waun Williams who came untouched on a corner blitz. McCaffrey incredibly shook off the tackle and bounced the run to the right. Despite the heroic effort, the rookie RB was stripped and lost a fumble at the Carolina 31, giving San Francisco’s anemic offense a glimmer of hope late in the game. But Carolina’s D held fast, and the Panthers preserved their 23-3 winning margin.
Closing It Out and Summing It Up
There are so many things to love about a 20-point road win to start the season, but some red flags emerged as well.
On offense, the combination of Christian McCaffrey and Jonathan Stewart worked extremely well. The 49ers had to account for McCaffrey on every play while J-Stew’s limited touches kept him fresh (and healthy, fingers crossed) the entire game. Also, the offensive line did a very good job overall protecting Cam on pass plays.
The defense came up huge on third and fourth downs all day. Thomas Davis sacked Bryan Hoyer on a 4th-and-4. Star Lotulelei and Wes Horton stuffed Kyle Juszczyk on a 4th-and-1. In the fourth quarter, the trio of Luke Kuechly, Charles Johnson, and Thomas Davis stopped Carlos Hyde on 4th-and-Goal at the 1. Clutch plays like these led to a near shutout by the defense.
As far as concerns go, Cams inaccuracy is deeply troubling. Yes, he had offseason shoulder surgery and was limited in the preseason, but if the former NFL MVP is healthy enough to play, he simply can’t regularly overthrow open receivers by 10 feet. Some of his overthrows were cover-your-eyes awful.
The other major concern is the lack of talent and depth at wide receiver. Just consider this stat from Sunday as the Panthers WRs faced a below-average secondary:
Carolina’s wide receivers combined for just five receptions and 98 yard against the 49ers.
And remember, 40 of those 98 yards came on Russell Shepard’s spectacular catch-and-run. While KB and Devin Funchess are big targets, neither of them can consistently get separation, which feeds into Cam’s accuracy problems. This receiving corps is going to struggle to get open and make plays when facing physical, athletic secondaries. Curtis Samuel (zero targets) needs to make contributions, and thank heaven for Christian McCaffrey’s versatility in light of the overall weakness at WR.
But hey, it’s all good for now.
The Carolina Panthers are 1-0 and the 2017 season is off to a great start.
“P2L, P2H” Season Leaders
Plays to Love:
1 PTL - Luke Kuechly, Russell Shepard, Wes Horton
Plays to Hate:
2 PTH - Cam Newton
1 PTH - Christian McCaffrey
Which Play to Love had the biggest impact on the Panthers win?
This poll is closed
1st Quarter - Wes Horton’s strip-sack
1st Quarter - Russell Shepard’s 40-yd TD
3rd Quarter - Luke Kuechly’s interception