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
The Situation: Taylor Heinicke started for Cam Newton and began the game by leading a nice drive to the Atlanta 34.
The Play: On 3rd-and-9 Heinicke started in shotgun and darted up the middle on a designed quarterback draw. The blocking was excellent and Carolina’s fresh-faced quarterback picked up 11 yards to the Atlanta 23, picking up the first down. Heinicke capped the drive with a touchdown pass to Ian Thomas for an early 7-0 Panthers lead.
2nd Quarter 13:08 – Panthers 7, Falcons 7. Falcons ball 1st-and-10 at CAR 13
The Situation: Disaster seemed to strike when Jarius Wright lost a fumble at the Carolina 13, setting Atlanta up with perfect starting field position.
The Play: On the very next play after Atlanta recovered Wright’s fumble, Kyle Love flew through the line and strip-sacked Matt Ryan. Love then recovered the fumble himself for a stellar momentum-shifting play.
2nd Quarter 11:18 – Panthers 7, Falcons 7. Panthers ball 3rd-and-9 at CAR 23
The Situation: After taking possession following Kyle Love’s strip-sack, the Panthers faced a three-and-out and needed to convert on 3rd-and-9.
The Play: Ian Thomas ran a deep route down the sideline and Taylor Heinicke hit him with a perfect back shoulder pass. Thomas timed his turn perfectly and reeled in a 27-yard gain for a first down. Thanks to this third down conversion the Panthers were able to end this drive with a field goal to take a 10-7 lead.
Three plays to hate
Disclaimer: Yes, Taylor Heinicke threw two damaging interceptions that took points off the board but that’s going to happen in a player’s first NFL start playing behind a shoddy offensive line. Rather than killing Heinicke here, I’m going to focus on three terrible defensive plays given up by a healthy defensive unit coached by Ron Rivera himself.
1st Quarter 2:08 – Panthers 7, Falcons 0. Falcons ball 3rd-and-8 at CAR 14
The Situation: The Falcons had driven into the red zone on their first offensive possession and faced 3rd-and-8.
The Play: Ron Rivera dialed up a soft zone and somehow left Julio Jones completely uncovered coming over the middle. No Panthers defender was anywhere near the NFL’s leading receiver. Julio gained an easy 11 yards to the Carolina 3 yard line, setting up a Falcons touchdown for a 7-7 tie. Note to Ron Rivera: In key situations you might want to cover the league’s most productive wide receiver.
3rd Quarter 15:00 – Panthers 10, Falcons 10. Falcons ball 1st-and-10 at ATL 25
The Situation: Minus Cam Newton, the Panthers had still managed a 10-10 tie at the half. The Falcons received the kickoff to start the second half and fireworks happened on their first play from scrimmage.
The Play: Matt Ryan went play action and Mike Adams bit harder than a pit bull on a turkey leg on the fake. Adams sprinted from his safety spot toward the line of scrimmage as Donte Jackson released Calvin Ridley into open space where Adams should’ve been. Ridley was wide open for an easy 75-yard touchdown and a 17-10 Falcons lead. You can watch the entire debacle in 360-degrees here.
3rd Quarter 4:45 – Panthers 10, Falcons 17. Falcons ball 1st-and-10 at CAR 44
The Situation: The Falcons had pieced together a decent drive into Carolina territory as they looked to build on their 17-10 lead.
The Play: On a pathetic sequence, Captain Munnerlyn dropped into zone and simply decided to not cover Mohamed Sanu as he came across the field into Captain’s area. Meanwhile, James Bradberry stumbled in man coverage against Julio Jones on a streak and never looked back to see Sanu sprinting toward the end zone. The score put the Falcons up 24-10. Game over.
Closing it out and summing it up
That makes seven losses in a row now to fall to 6-9. What an awful season.
On the bright side, Christian McCaffrey set the all-time record for receptions by a running back after his 12 reception outing. CMC is basically a one-man offense at this point. His 1,925 yards from scrimmage are second in the NFL behind Ezekiel Elliott’s 2,001 yards.
Ian Thomas has been a revelation at tight end. In his two college seasons at Indiana he registered a total of just 28 receptions. Over his last four weeks he’s hauled in 20 receptions for the Panthers and scored his first NFL touchdown this week. Curtis Samuel is also coming into his own. Over the Panthers last six outings he has averaged just over four receptions and nearly 50 yards per game.
James Bradberry had a great day in coverage with four passes broken up, including a spectacular deflection on a deep bomb and jumping a route on 3rd-and-2 to force a punt.
The Panthers’ 6-2 start to the season seems like a fraud now. While I both like and respect Ron Rivera, perhaps it’s time for a new voice in the locker room. But in fairness to Ron, there are just so many weak spots across the roster that any coach would struggle to make the 2018 Panthers a top echelon team.
Plays to love season leaders
6 - Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore
3 - Cam Newton, Greg Olsen, James Bradberry, Kyle Love
2 - Chris Clark, Devin Funchess, Efe Obada, Ian Thomas, Luke Kuechly, Ryan Kalil, Taylor Heinicke, Torrey Smith
1 - Ben Jacobs, Chris Manhertz, Colin Jones, Curtis Samuel, David Mayo, Donte Jackson, Eric Reid, Graham Gano, Greg Van Roten, Jarius Wright, Julius Peppers, Kawann Short, Mario Addison, Michael Palardy, Norv Turner, Ron Rivera, Thomas Davis, Wes Horton
Plays to hate season leaders
6 - Cam Newton
5 - Eric Reid, Mike Adams
4 - James Bradberry
3 - Captain Munnerlyn, D.J. Moore
2 - Christian McCaffrey, Devin Funchess, Dontari Poe, Donte Jackson, Eric Washington, Graham Gano, Norv Turner, Ron Rivera
1 - Amini Silatolu, C.J. Anderson, Chris Clark, Colin Jones, Corn Elder, Ian Thomas, Luke Kuechly, Taylor Moton, Thomas Davis, Trai Turner, Special Teams - Kick Coverage
Which play to hate had the biggest impact on the Panthers loss?
This poll is closed
1st Q - Julio Jones converts on third down, leading to a Falcons touchdown
3rd Q - Mike Adams gives up a 75-yd touchdown to Calvin Ridley on the first play of the third quarter
3rd Q - Captain Munnerlyn lets Mohamed Sanu run free for a 44-yd touchdown