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.
Three plays to love
1st Quarter 11:58 – Panthers 0, Buccaneers 0. Bucs ball 2nd-and-8 at TB 22
The Situation: The Bucs and the Panthers had both gone three-and-out on their first possessions. Tampa Bay was now just beginning their second drive.
The Play: Ryan Fitzpatrick overthrew his intended receiver by a country mile and the ball sailed right into the hands of Eric Reid for an easy interception. Reid returned the interception 39 yards down to the Tampa Bay 10 yard line, setting up an Alex Armah touchdown and an early 7-0 Panthers lead.
2nd Quarter 6:33 – Panthers 28, Bucs 7. Bucs ball 4th-and-9 at TB 26
The Situation: The Panthers had scored touchdowns on four straight drives to jump out to a 28-7 lead midway through the second quarter. The Bucs were desperate to change momentum as they lined up to punt.
The Play: The Bucs gambled on a high-risk, low-reward fake punt from deep in their own territory. Ben Jacobs pressured punter Bryan Anger on the throw while David Mayo deflected the pass. The Panthers took possession at the Tampa Bay 25 and scored yet another touchdown to go up 35-7. I think Tampa Bay’s coaching staff panicked here. Yes, Carolina’s offense was an avalanche at this point, but we all know how the second half played out. After the Panthers went up 35-7, the Bucs scored the next 21 points to narrow the gap to 35-28 early in the fourth quarter. What if Tampa Bay had just punted here? What if Carolina’s offense fell apart with 28 points instead of 35? What if the Bucs tied the game at 28-28 instead of still being down a touchdown? The second half could have played out very differently if Tampa just punts here, but that’s only a guess on my part.
4th Quarter 13:04 – Panthers 35, Bucs 28. Panthers ball 3rd-and-2 at CAR 33
The Situation: The Panthers offense had gone ice cold. After scoring touchdowns on five straight drives to go up 35-7, Carolina’s offense went punt (three-and-out), punt (three-and-out), and turnover on downs (burned all three timeouts). In the meantime, Tampa Bay’s offense caught fire and cut the lead to 35-28. The Panthers had lost all momentum and were now facing the prospect of another three-and-out as they lined up for 3rd-and-2.
The Play: Christian McCaffrey slipped out of the backfield and into the left flat and found himself open. Cam Newton hit him with a short pass and CMC motored 20 yards to the Tampa Bay 47. The third down conversion extended a drive that ended with a Curtis Samuel touchdown and a 42-28 Panthers lead. If the Panthers don’t convert here, they would have punted deep in their own territory with a seven point lead. Yes, there were more spectacular plays in this game including McCaffrey’s hurdle, Curtis Samuel’s double reverse, and Greg Olsen’s one-handed touchdown, but I think getting this first down was a huge momentum shifter to get the Panthers offense back on track.
Three plays to hate
2nd Quarter 0:19 – Panthers 35, Bucs 7. Bucs ball 4th-and-Goal at CAR 3
The Situation: The Bucs had one final play to end the half to try to cut into the Panthers overwhelming 35-7 lead.
The Play: O.J. Howard came in motion from left to right and used the momentum to just run away from Luke Kuechly in coverage. Howard scored an easy touchdown and made Luke look shockingly slow on the play. The play cut the Panthers lead to 35-14 at the half.
3rd Quarter 4:25 – Panthers 35, Bucs 21. Panthers ball 1st-and-10 at CAR 41
The Situation: After two three-and-outs to start the third quarter, the Panthers offense needed to get something going.
The Play(s): I hated multiple plays on this entire drive and will pin these on Norv Turner and Ron Rivera. At the 4:25 mark the Panthers had to burn a timeout to prevent a delay of game. At 3:02 they burned their second timeout. At 2:58 they challenged a play and lost, thus losing their final timeout. At 2:09 the Panthers faced 4th-and-1 from the Tampa Bay 34 and converted with a Cam Newton sneak. However, Carolina was flagged for illegal motion and now faced 4th-and-6 from the Tampa Bay 38. Rivera went for it and Cam Newton’s underneath throw to Devin Funchess only gained two yards and the Panthers turned it over on downs. This sequence was a two minute clown show.
3rd Quarter 0:18 – Panthers 35, Bucs 21. Bucs ball 3rd-and-17 at TB 14
The Situation: Tampa Bay had reeled off 14 straight points to cut Carolina’s lead to 35-21 near the end of the third quarter. The Panthers defense just needed to hold on 3rd-and-17 to stop the Bucs momentum.
The Play: This “Play to Hate” gets pinned squarely on defensive coordinator Eric Washington. Rather than staying at least somewhat aggressive, Washington went into a deep, soft zone. Both Eric Reid and Mike Adams were more than 20 yards off the line of scrimmage at the snap. Donte Jackson released Chris Godwin on a streak down the sideline and safety help over the top was nowhere to be seen. Godwin easily converted with a 25-yard gain. This drive ended with a touchdown to trim the Panthers lead to a sphincter-clenching 35-28. Just a horrible scheme by Washington.
Closing it out and summing it up
The Panthers are 6-2 and that’s all that matters. They have the third best record in the NFC, trailing the one-loss Los Angeles Rams (8-1) and New Orleans Saints (7-1). It might not always be pretty, but the Panthers just keep on winning. Let’s be happy with that.
On offense, Newton and McCaffrey were brilliant. Greg Olsen is an old reliable security blanket. Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore looked incredibly explosive with the ball in their hands. Blocking was generally solid. Play calling was creative. It’s all love when the offense hangs 42 points on a division rival.
Defensively, Eric Washington’s soft defensive coverages on third-and-long has got to stop. In addition to the “Play to Hate” above (converting on 3rd-and-17), the Bucs also converted on a 3rd-and-15 in the first quarter. Be more aggressive, Eric! James Bradberry (with help from Eric Reid) was incredible in shutting down Mike Evans with just one catch on 10 targets. Donte Jackson came up with yet another clutch interception to seal the game. Mario Addison was a sack machine with a little help from his friends.
I love the black-on-black uniforms. We are the Panthers. Panthers are black. More black-on-black uniforms please.
The Panthers need to learn how to put teams away. This game never should’ve ended up 35-28 in the fourth quarter. That said, it’s hard to be unhappy with a 14-point win against a division rival. Let the good times roll!
Plays to love season leaders
3 - Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, James Bradberry
2 - Efe Obada, Kyle Love, Torrey Smith,
1 - Ben Jacobs, Colin Jones, David Mayo, Devin Funchess, Donte Jackson, Eric Reid, Graham Gano, Greg Olsen, Julius Peppers, Kawann Short, Mario Addison, Norv Turner, Taylor Heinicke, Wes Horton
Plays to hate season leaders
4 - Mike Adams
3 - Eric Reid
2 - Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Dontari Poe, Eric Washington
1 - Amini Silatolu, C.J. Anderson, Captain Munnerlyn, Colin Jones, Devin Funchess, Donte Jackson, Ian Thomas, Luke Kuechly, Norv Turner, Ron Rivera, Thomas Davis, Trai Turner
Which play to love had the biggest impact on the Panthers victory?
This poll is closed
1st Q - Eric Reid’s interception
2nd Q - Panthers stop fake punt
4th Q - CMC gets 20 yards on 3rd-and-2