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Panthers 38 Cardinals 20: Three plays to love, three plays to hate

These key plays swung momentum and decided the Panthers 38-20 road win against the Arizona Cardinals, putting Carolina’s record at 1-2.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Plays to love, plays to hate 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.

The Carolina Panthers picked up their first win of the season after beating the Arizona Cardinals 38-20. Let’s break it down.

Three plays to love

2nd Quarter 0:58 – Panthers 7, Cardinals 10. Panthers ball 1st-and-10 at CAR 48

The Situation: Because the Panthers went on to win this game in convincing fashion, it’s almost hard to remember they trailed 10-7 with under a minute to go in the first half. Kyle Allen was leading a two minute drill with the ball near midfield with 58 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

The Play: DJ Moore ran a deep dig route from left to right and got separation. Allen hit him perfectly in stride and DJ did what he does best, slithering through creases and outrunning defenders for a beautiful 52-yard score, putting the Panthers up 14-10 at the half.

3rd Quarter 2:05 – Panthers 21, Cardinals 20. Panthers ball 2nd-and-2 at CAR 24

The Situation: The Cardinals had just kicked a field goal to trim the Panthers lead to one point late in third quarter. Two plays later, Christian McCaffrey broke the game open.

The Play: Kyle Allen was under center with McCaffrey behind him. Greg Olsen was in the backfield to CMC’s left and Alex Armah to his right. On the snap the entire right side of the Panthers line crashed down. Greg Van Roten pulled from left to right and worked with Olsen, Armah, and Chris Manhertz to open a gaping hole for McCaffrey. CMC burst through the hole, juked Arizona’s safety, then outran the rest of the defense for an electrifying 76-yard touchdown. This key play put the Panthers in the driver’s seat at 28-20 entering the fourth quarter.

3rd Quarter 1:26 – Panthers 28, Cardinals 20. Cardinals ball 2nd-and-9 at ARI 26

The Situation: Just two plays after CMC’s incredible 76-yard touchdown, Kyler Murray decided to go deep to Larry Fitzgerald.

The Play: Murray’s pass was overthrown and Donte Jackson put himself in perfect position for an interception. Jackson then returned the pick 25 yards to the Arizona 26 yard line. A few plays later Kyle Allen hit Greg Olsen for a score and a 35-20 Panthers lead early in the fourth quarter. McCaffrey’s long touchdown run swung momentum while D-Jax’s follow-up interception cemented it for Carolina.

Three plays to hate

1st Quarter 10:55 – Panthers 0, Cardinals 0. Panthers ball 3rd-and-5 at ARI 15

The Situation: Carolina received the opening kickoff and first time starter Kyle Allen orchestrated a nice opening drive down to the Arizona 15.

The Play: On 3rd-and-5 Taylor Moton got beat off the right edge and Chandler Jones got to Allen for a strip-sack. The turnover not only took at least a field goal off the board, it also created an early sense of dread, a feeling that the Panthers were going implode yet again.

2nd Quarter 14:17 – Panthers 14, Cardinals 10. Cardinals ball 2nd-and-20 at ARI 35

The Situation: Arizona got the ball to start the second half, trailing by four points. They were pushed back to a 2nd-and-20 which should’ve put the Panthers in position to force a punt.

The Play: On 2nd-and-20 the Panthers went to a soft zone and left the middle of the field wide open. Larry Fitzerald hauled in a ridiculously easy 23-yard reception for a first down, extending the drive. The Cardinals kept up the momentum and converted with a touchdown to take a 17-14 third quarter lead.

3rd Quarter 3:57 – Panthers 21, Cardinals 17. Cardinals ball 1st-and-10 at CAR 35

The Situation: The Cardinals trailed 21-17 late in the third quarter but had strung together a long drive down to the Carolina 35.

The Play: Trent Sherfield was lined up wide left with Christian Kirk in the slot. Donte Jackson had Sherfield in man coverage but instead of covering his man, D-Jax got caught watching Kyler Murray’s eyes. As Murray began to throw, Jackson left Sherfield to undercut Kirk’s route, apparently gambling for an interception. The gamble nearly doomed Carolina as Murray’s pass went to Sherfield - the player Jackson abandoned - who was wide open streaking down the sideline for what should’ve been an easy touchdown. Fortunately for the Panthers, Murray threw the pass over Sherfield’s head and out of bounds, otherwise he walks into the end zone for a score and a 24-21 Cardinals lead. Yes, we should celebrate Donte Jackson for his two interceptions on the day, but we also need to hold him accountable for when he gambles and loses. This poor decision nearly put the Panthers behind 24-21 late in the third quarter.

Closing it out and summing it up

Boy a convincing win feels nice! At 1-2 the Panthers still have hope as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons are also floundering and the New Orleans Saints are playing without Drew Brees.

On offense, Kyle Allen (19-of-26, 261 yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) was a revelation. After watching a hobbled and hurried Cam Newton spray the ball all over creation last week, Allen’s passes looked downright beautiful. Greg Olsen (6 receptions, 75 yards, 2 touchdowns) continues to be old reliable and Curtis Samuel (5 receptions, 53 yards, 1 touchdown) is legitimately breaking out. On the negative side, though, the run blocking was subpar for the second straight week. Subtracting Christian McCaffrey’s 76-yard home run, the rest of CMC’s day consisted of 23 carries for 77 yards, or a pedestrian 3.3 yards per carry against a fairly weak defense.

Defensively, Donte Jackson’s two interceptions were game changers, and his second pick basically defied gravity. The Panthers eight sacks were the most in nearly three years. Rookies Christian Miller (two sacks) and Brian Burns (four tackles, one sack) are giving Panther fans reasons to be giddy about the future while old-timer Mario Addison had three sacks on the day. One “Play to Love” I just couldn’t fit in was Tre Boston breaking up a bomb to Christian Kirk at the end of the first half that prevented at least a Cardinals field goal.

Let’s hope Kyle Allen can keep his mojo so the Panthers don’t feel rushed to bring back Cam Newton before he’s fully healthy. We’ve seen what that looks like and it isn’t pretty. This really was a “must win” game for the Panthers and they did just that. Their victory prevented a season-killing 0-3 start, now let’s see if they can ride the momentum into Week 4 against the Houston Texans.


Which play to love had the biggest impact on the Panthers win?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    2nd Quarter - DJ Moore’s 52-yard touchdown put the Panthers up 14-10
    (177 votes)
  • 46%
    3rd Quarter - Christian McCaffrey’s 76-yard touchdown run gives Carolina a 28-20 lead
    (223 votes)
  • 17%
    3rd Quarter - Donte Jackson’s interception sets up a Greg Olsen score and a 35-20 Panthers lead
    (83 votes)
483 votes total Vote Now