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Panthers 24 Browns 26: Late comeback falls short as Panthers drop season opener

The Panthers made it exciting at the end, but couldn’t complete the comeback against the Browns.

Cleveland Browns v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The Panthers entered Week 1 as one of the hot stories of the NFL with new quarterback Baker Mayfield facing off against his former team and hoping to prove to the Browns that they made a huge mistake letting him move on to greener pastures.

Things didn’t start out smoothly for the Panthers. For the entirety of the first quarter, the Panthers only picked up one first down, and that was due to a (very weak) roughing the passer penalty on third down that gave the Panthers an extra 15 yards they did not deserve. The team had four drives and gained a total of 6 yards on 11 plays (-1 yards passing and 7 yards rushing). Meanwhile the defense, while not allowing any points, gave the Browns free rein to run the football up and down the field, and if it weren’t for Jaboby Brissett missing a few wide open throws the Panthers would have been down at least 10-0 by the time the quarter was over.

The second quarter wasn’t much better for Carolina. After a Baker Mayfield interception at midfield, C.J. Henderson committed an egregious pass interference penalty in the end zone to set the Browns up with a first-and-goal situation at the 1-yard line. As expected, the Browns took advantage of Carolina’s mistakes and scored on the next play to take a 7-0 lead. The Panthers continued to struggle on offense, and after their first 21 plays only had 19 total yards. The defense started showing signs of exhaustion from being on the field for the majority of the half and allowed the Browns to drive down the field to score another touchdown on a 24-yard scamper by Kareem Hunt to take a 14-0 lead.

The Panthers finally put something together on offense towards the end of the quarter and pulled to within one score after a 50-yard pass from Mayfield to Ian Thomas set up a 1-yard touchdown run from Christian McCaffrey with 1:57 left in the half. Of course, the Panthers followed up their first-of-the-game good drive with a kickoff out of bounds that gave the Browns excellent starting field position, and then a 15-yard penalty mixed in with poor defense put the Browns in a first-and-goal situation with less than a minute to go. The Browns sputtered on offense and settled for a field goal to take a 17-7 lead into the break.

The Panthers defense came out sluggish in the second half and allowed the Browns to march down the field over the span of eight minutes, but Carolina finally clamped down when it mattered the most on third-and-long and forced the Browns to settle for a field goal to extend their lead to 20-7 with 7:42 left in the quarter. The Panthers were unable to respond in the remaining seven minutes of the frame and entered the final quarter of the game in a 13-point hole of their own making.

The fourth quarter started where the third ended: With the Panthers desperately trying to get on the scoreboard and close the gap between the two teams. They were finally successful with just under 13 minutes left when Baker Mayfield scored on a 7-yard rush to pull the Panthers to within six points. The defense was unable to stop the Browns from making it a two-score game again on their next drive as they drove down the field and settled for a chip shot field goal to extend their lead to 23-14 with 6:13 left in regulation.

The Panthers hit back quickly on their next drive with a 75-yard touchdown that only took 11 seconds off the clock when Mayfield found a wide open Robbie Anderson down the field to pull the Panthers to within two points of the lead with 6:02 left in the game. The Panthers defense came up huge for the first time in the game and got the stop they needed to with 2:21 left in regulation and forced the Browns to punt. The Panthers drove down the field and took advantage of a horse collar penalty on the Browns to get into field goal range. After a few plays to drain time off the clock, Matt Rhule sent Eddy Pineiro out for a 34-yard field goal attempt. The kick was good and it gave the Panthers a 24-23 lead with 1:13 left in regulation. The Browns drove down the field and took advantage of a (very weak) Brian Burns roughing the passer penalty to make a 58-yard field goal to take a 26-24 lead with 0:08 left in regulation.

The Panthers ran one more desperation play at the end of the game and couldn’t come up with the game-winning score, and the Browns — who outplayed the Panthers for the majority of the afternoon — end up with a 26-24 win. The Panthers will try to regroup from this loss next week when they take on the Giants, and will hope to play better than they did today to avoid an 0-2 start on the season.