Plays to Love, Plays to Hate highlights the plays that have a significant impact in swinging momentum and impacting the eventual outcome of the game. There’s always plenty to hate about NFL officiating, so we will only focus on the plays on the field, not the refs (usually). Let’s review the momentum-shifting plays that led to the Panthers troublesome loss to the Broncos.
Three plays to love
Chinn’s second quarter strip-sack: A very conservative Panthers offense had generated zero points with 6:34 left in the first half and needed some help. The Broncos had the ball at the Carolina 32 and were in field goal range to build on their 6-0 lead. Jeremy Chinn came on a lightning blitz up the middle and strip-sacked Drew Lock with a vicious hit. Efe Obada scooped up the bouncing ball and rumbled 54 yards down to the Denver three yard line. Two plays later Mike Davis punched it in for a 7-6 Panthers lead. Jeremy Chinn is just a monster.
Panthers fourth quarter touchdown drive lasting just 28 seconds: The Panthers defense gave up a gut-punch 49-yard touchdown to fall behind 32-20 with about four minutes left in the game. Then, totally unexpectedly, Teddy Bridgewater & Co. awoke from their slumber and put together a lightning-fast scoring drive. The first play went for 20 yards to Mike Davis followed by a 13-yard pass interference. That was followed by a 32-yard pass to Pharoh Cooper, an incompletion, then a 10-yard Mike Davis touchdown. The scoring drive took just 28 seconds and the Panthers now trailed 32-27 with 3:26 left. This drive gave them a shot for a game-winning drive.
Slye’s very sly fourth quarter kickoff: After the Panthers quick-strike touchdown with 3:26 left in the game they still faced a five-point deficit. Joey Slye lined up with the ball laying down as if he would attempt an onside kick. Instead, he kicked it hard sending it spinning and squibbing toward the Broncos end zone. Returner Diontae Spencer waited and hoped the ball would bounce into the end zone for a touchback, but it instead died on the two yard line and Spencer was dropped at the seven. The Panthers defense forced a three-and-out and Denver had to punt from their own end zone, giving Carolina one final but ultimately failed chance to win the game.
Three plays to hate
Denver’s first quarter punt return touchdown: The game started with a Broncos punt followed by a Panthers three-and-out. Diontae Spencer fielded the Panthers punt as gunners Myles Hartsfield and Trenton Cannon couldn’t make a play, giving Spencer just enough time to find a seam to the left. He took the punt 83 yards to the house for the first Broncos punt return touchdown in five years. After a missed extra point Denver took an early 6-0 lead. When the Panthers are facing a 4-8 Broncos team at home with Drew Lock under center, they can’t give up cheap points like this!
Bogus second quarter roughing the passer: (Note: I don’t normally whine about bad calls in this column, but I have to go on the record about the horrible roughing the passer call against Brian Burns). With 3:31 left in the second quarter the Panthers led 7-6 and Denver faced third-and-6 from their own 38. Carolina dialed up pressure and Burns got to Drew Lock just as the Broncos quarterback released the ball for an incomplete pass. Burns executed a textbook quarterback hit by avoiding the head/neck area and not landing his full body weight on Lock. In fact, Burns seemed to actively try to roll to the side to prevent this. But it was a hard, violent hit, no doubt. I think the refs threw the flag for “hitting the quarterback too hard” because it was not a roughing scenario. Instead of punting, Denver’s drive was extended and concluded with a touchdown and a 13-7 halftime lead. Matt Rhule was literally spitting mad as he went ballistic on the refs, and deservedly so for this awful call and the huge impact it would have on a one-score game.
Hamler’s backbreaking 49-yard fourth quarter touchdown: Carolina scored a clutch touchdown to pull to within 25-20 with about five minutes left in the game. Just when the Panthers defense needed a big play, they gave one up instead. Perhaps anticipating Denver to employ a ball control approach the Panthers had just one deep safety. KJ Hamler was lined up in the slot and ran right up the seam with Rasul Douglas forced to cover two receivers with no help from the linebackers who keyed on the run. Carolina’s lone safety (it looked like Juston Burris) locked in on a receiver running an underneath route as Douglas released Hamler...to nobody. Douglas then changed course and pursued Hamler but it was too late as the Broncos speedy receiver hauled in a 49-yard score that just sucked the life out of the Panthers and killed all momentum.
Closing it out and summing it up
Carolina hasn’t been expected to win many games this year, but losing to a 4-8 team quarterbacked by Drew Lock at home is embarrassing. Yes, Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore, and Zach Kerr were out, but welcome to the NFL during a pandemic. Next man up.
The Panthers offense was boringly conservative for most of the game. Teddy Bridgewater threw for all of 62 yards in Carolina’s seven-point first half. Most plays were straightforward runs or dink-and-dunk underneath routes. But when Bridgewater did look deep he regularly faced pressure. The second half improved when Curtis Samuel started getting involved, but too little, too late. The delay of game on third-and-goal from the Denver seven yard line with 5:27 left in the game illustrated how unprepared this team is to start winning games.
Carolina’s defense was good in the first half (they would’ve only surrendered six points if not for the bogus roughing the passer call) but was terrible in the second half. I’m growing increasingly concerned about Phil Snow’s inability to make halftime adjustments. Drew Lock simply cannot go 21-of-27 for 280 yards and four touchdowns and get sacked just once. That just can’t happen.
The special teams yielded a devastating punt return touchdown and a goofy, indecisive Trenton Cannon kick return that forced the Panthers to start at their own 14. Lastly, when the Panthers defense forced a clutch punt with just 3:00 left facing a five point deficit, Pharoh Cooper returned the punt to the 50 yard line to give the offense excellent starting position for a game-winning drive. But Natrell Jamerson was called for a hold on the return which moved the ball back to the Carolina 27 yard line. It was a 23-yard gaffe when the Panthers could least afford it.
This was just a bad game, especially coming off a bye week. With just three games left this season, the reeling 4-9 Panthers have a long, long way to go if they want to be a contender in the next few years.
Which play to hate had the biggest impact on the Panthers loss?
This poll is closed
Denver’s 1st quarter punt return TD
Bogus 2nd quarter roughing the passer
Hamler’s backbreaking 49-yard 4th quarter TD