The Titans hit an intermediate pass to DeAndre Hopkins to start the game, but three ineffective subsequent plays led to a punt. The Panthers did the same, with a rollout pass from Bryce Young to Jonathan Mingo to get the drive rolling, but a weird backwards pass on third down was blown up and forced a punt back to the Titans. The Titans took the ball and went 15 plays for 91 yards and a touchdown on a drive that featured seven straight completions from Will Levis on mostly comebacks and quick slants.
Young popped a bubble screen to Ihmir Smith-Marsette for a solid gain to start the Panthers second drive and bring the first quarter to a close.
Much like the first drive, the Panthers went to the ground game after an effective pass to start the drive. Two ineffective runs set the Panthers up in 3rd and 5, and Bryce Young had to throw it away after three Titans almost immediately infiltrated the backfield. The drive was extended by a defensive holding on the Titans. On the next third down, Bryce Young slipped away from Jeffrey Simmons and Denico Autry to pick up 11 yards and a first down. A few plays later, he threaded a tight pass to Stephon Sullivan on third down to keep the drive alive. A holding penalty on the next play stalled the drive and forced a 50 yard field goal off the foot of Eddy Pineiro.
The Panthers defense sent the Titans backwards seven yards on the ensuing drive, but a 71 yard punt pinned the Panthers inside their own five. After a nice third down conversion, Arden Key ran right around Ikem Ekwonu to blindside Bryce Young and force a fumble, setting the Titans up in the red zone. It took two plays for Derrick Henry to punch in his second touchdown of the day.
The Panthers couldn’t muster anything on offense, and a really bad Johnny Hekker punt gave the Titans a chance to put one more drive together. The defense held up after the referees picked up the flag that would have been an unnecessary roughness on Xavier Woods. The Titans got another good punt out of Ryan Stonehouse that pinned the Panthers on their own 10. The Panthers unsuccessfully tried to move the ball, and another short Johnny Hekker punt gave the Titans a shot to work into field goal range. They did that, and Nick Folk drilled through a 53 yard field goal to put the Titans up 17-3 at the half.
The Panthers started the second half with two ineffective runs and were set up with a 3rd and long. Young was hit as he threw and couldn’t complete the pass, but the Panthers benefitted from another defensive holding call that extended the drive. After a nice first down pass, Jeffrey Simmons met Miles Sanders at the handoff to set up another Panthers third down. Young scrambled to pick it up. The Panthers went back to the ground game, and this time it was Chuba Hubbard that was met at the handoff for a loss. They picked up a big gain on a checkdown to Hubbard that was completely uncovered, and the third year pro punched it in on a fourth down a few plays later.
The defense forced a quick punt to get the ball back for their offense. The Panthers lost Cade Mays to an injury as het got beaten by Jeffrey Simmons for a sack. It was the second guard to go down to injury, which put Nash Jensen into his first run of duty on the offensive line. A couple of nice plays from Hubbard moved the ball, but the drive was ended by a sack when Miles Sanders was left one on one with Denico Autry.
The Panthers forced a quick punt to start the fourth quarter after Deion Jones almost jumped a stick route on third down. The Panthers offense threatened to move the ball, but a holding penalty put the team behind the sticks, and they are never going to overcome that. After a Panthers punt, the Titans hit on a couple of chunk passing plays, but the defense stiffened up at midfield. The Panthers again narrowly missed an interception, this time when Brian Burns blew up a screen, but had to settle for a Titans punt instead.
Young found Jonathan Mingo down the sideline for a big gain on a third down. After a holding penalty threatened to derail another drive, Young found DJ Chark on a deep crosser to pick up 18 yards. They couldn’t keep the momentum going though, as another Miles Sanders run was blown up before it could get started. They were forced to punt once again.
The defense forced one more punt to give the offense a final shot. On second down, Autry bulldozed his way to Young for a quick sack and a 3rd and long for the Panthers. After a checkdown, the Panthers went with a bubble screen to DJ Chark on 4th and 6. It got shut down at the line of scrimmage, effectively ending the game.
Despite the Titans having one of the better run defenses in the league and a suspect pass defense, the Panthers insisted on trying to run the ball on early downs. Outside of a few chunk runs, it largely resulted in 3rd and mediums and other high pressure situations. In the passing game, the Titans double teamed Adam Thielen on just about every route, and the Panthers didn’t have an answer to that. The Panthers were down to their third and fourth guards on the day, and they predictably couldn’t hold up in either pass protection or run blocking.
The Panthers played well defensively. They only gave up 17 points, and seven of those came from a drive where the Titans took over inside the red zone. They forced four straight points in the third and fourth quarter to give the offense a chance to come back, but those chances went by the wayside.
It was the most common game script of a Panthers game this season. We’ll see if that changes when they take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next Sunday.