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 usually plenty to hate about NFL officiating, so we will only focus on the plays on the field, not the refs. Let’s review the momentum-shifting plays that led to the Panthers ending their season on a low note against a division rival.
Three plays to love
Obada drops Brees in the first: The game started with a Panthers three-and-out, then a Saints touchdown, then another Panthers three-and-out. Already trailing 7-0 with no help from the offense, Carolina’s defense needed an early win. On third-and-5 the secondary covered well which bought time for Efe Obada to sack Drew Brees and force a New Orleans three-and-out. If the Saints had scored on this drive to go up 10-0 or 14-0, it could’ve been “game over” very early.
Samuel’s deep comeback catch in the first: On the Panthers drive following Obada’s sack, Curtis Samuel prevented a third straight three-and-out by drawing a pass interference call. Then three plays later Samuel ran a deep route down the right sideline and Teddy Bridgewater underthrew the pass. It looked like Malcolm Jenkins was in position to undercut the route and intercept the ball, but Curtis made an aggressive move to come back to the ball and haul in a 25-yard reception before Jenkins could get his hands on it. Samuel went out of bounds at the New Orleans eight yard line to set up a touchdown and a 7-7 tie.
DJ’s aggressive bomb in the third: While this play didn’t lead to a score (thanks to a Teddy Bridgewater interception), I wanted to highlight it anyway because it made me jump out of my chair. Carolina trailed 19-7 early in the third quarter and the offense looked like dog meat. Facing second-and-10 from their own 37, Teddy Bridgewater threw a bomb over the middle to DJ Moore who was double covered. DJ elevated, high-pointed the ball, and just simply outmuscled both defenders to haul in a 44-yard gain to the New Orleans 19. It was a man’s catch. There’s a reason DJ Moore is often compared to Panthers legend Steve Smith.
Three plays to hate
Too much Taysom on fourth down in the first: After the Panthers went three-and-out to start the game, the Saints moved the ball down to the Carolina 21 on their first drive. Facing fourth-and-1 Sean Payton elected to forgo a field goal attempt and went for a first down. Taysom Hill took a direct snap and muscled his way up the middle for three yards and a first down. On the very next play the Saints scored a touchdown to take an early 7-0 lead. If the Panthers defense could’ve come up with a stop on fourth down, it wouldn’t have just prevented a touchdown, it would’ve signaled to the Saints that the Panthers defense had come to play.
Samuel stonewalled in the second: The Panthers trailed just 13-7 with 2:52 left in the second quarter. Facing fourth-and-1 from the New Orleans 21 Matt Rhule decided to be aggressive and go for the first down instead of attempting a field goal. Curtis Samuel took a deep handoff as the Panthers offensive line got driven backward off the snap. John Miller couldn’t stop Malcom Brown who dropped Samuel for a one-yard loss and a turnover on downs.
Teddy’s two end zone interceptions: I’ve seen enough Teddy Bridgewater end zone interceptions to last a lifetime, and he gave us two more against the Saints. The first came in the second quarter from the New Orleans 18 with the score tied at 7-7. The second pick came in the third quarter from the New Orleans 19 on the very next play after DJ Moore’s herculean 44-yard gain. Carolina trailed 19-7 at the time of the second interception, and a touchdown on that drive for a 19-14 score could’ve led to a much more competitive ending to this one.
Closing it out and summing it up
And thus ends the first season of Matt Rhule’s tenure as head coach in Carolina. I like the mentality and toughness he seems to have brought to the team and see a bright future for this franchise. The 2020 Carolina Panthers competed better than their 5-11 record indicates. I’ve been tough at times this year on Rhule, Joe Brady, and Phil Snow and their inability to make second half adjustments, but this young brain trust should only get better with time.
Curtis Samuel has made himself some serious money over the last two months. He registered at least 70 scrimmage yards in five of the Panthers final eight games, including three games with at least 105 receiving yards. He was clutch on third downs all season, too. If Carolina doesn’t pay him this offseason, someone else will. I hope the Panthers can work the salary cap gymnastics to retain Samuel as the combination of him, DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, and a healthy Christian McCaffrey gives the Panthers perhaps the league’s most explosive receiving corps.
And how about Tommy Stevens coming out of nowhere to do his best Taysom Hill impersonation? The 6-foot-5, 235-pound rookie quarterback/tight end was signed off the practice squad in the week leading up to the game and ran the ball four times for 24 yards. This article from the Observer gives more information about his journey after being drafted by the Saints (reportedly to spite the Panthers), getting cut in November, then landing in Carolina. In an otherwise terrible game by the Panthers, Stevens at least brought something new and interesting.
The Panthers are right where we hoped they would be at this point - young, competitive, and showing promise. The rebuilding work will continue as we now look forward to the draft and free agency.
Which play to hate had the biggest impact on the Panthers loss?
This poll is closed
Too much Taysom on fourth down in the first
Samuel stonewalled in the second
Teddy’s two end zone interceptions