Panther Positives and Negatives: Carolina Eliminated From Playoff Contention with Loss to Packers

by Bobby Bishop

Photo courtesy of Carolina Panthers

After falling way behind in the first half, the Carolina Panthers’ big early deficit proved to be too much to overcome, as they fell to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, 24-16.

The Packers started off strong, capitalizing on each of their first two drives. First, Aaron Rodgers hit Robert Tonyan on a rub route for a one-yard touchdown. Then, following a Joey Slye 36-yard field goal for Carolina, Rodgers ran in a touchdown from six yards out, giving the Packers a 14-3 lead. That is when things went south for the Panthers. 

After driving all the way to the one-yard-line, Joe Brady made a perfectly safe call to run a quarterback sneak on 1st-and-goal. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater tried to reach the ball over the line and fumbled. This play ended up being a game-defining mistake. 

When asked about the fumble at the goal line, head coach Matt Rhule said, “That play can’t happen.”

Rhule called out Bridgewater, explaining that he “told him from Day 1, we don’t reach the ball across the goal line.” Postgame, Bridgewater shouldered the blame and acknowledged his mistake. 

The Packers (obviously) recovered that fumble and ran it back just past the 50. Aaron Jones skipped in a rushing touchdown a few plays later. A game that should have been 14-10 became 21-3 very quickly. 

The Panthers’ defensive line stepped up in the second half, with Derrick Brown and Brian Burns sacking Rodgers twice each. As a whole, the Panthers came up with five third-down stops in a row, which allowed the offense to eventually make it a one-score game. 

Bridgewater rushed for a touchdown, and Slye converted two field goals; however, it was too little, too late. Sam Franklin held on the Packers’ final punt, ruining the Panthers’ promising field position. Then, Bridgewater committed an intentional grounding penalty, moving the Panthers back deep into their own territory. 

With less than a minute and 90 yards to drive, Bridgewater was unable to lead the Panthers down the field. He moved to 0-8 on game-winning/-tying drives this year. The Panthers fell to 4-10 on the season. 

Positive Takeaways

The Panthers’ young defensive line is going to be a force for years to come. After shedding many draft scout’s analysis that he can’t pass rush, Derrick Brown had his first sack of the season and added another one. He played a career-high 92% of the snaps and created pressure throughout the night. 

On the edge, Brian Burns added two more sacks. He appeared to hurt his knee on his final sack of the game, but he downplayed his injury after the game, saying that it was a “tweak,” and he should “be fine.” 

Jeremy Chinn reached 100 tackles on the season, making his case for Defensive Rookie of the Year even more solid. It’s basically a two-horse race between Chase Young and Chinn. Regardless of the winner, Chinn, Burns, and Brown are excellent young pieces on a rebuilding defense. 

On the other side, Robby Anderson and DJ Moore both reached 1,000 yards receiving for the season. In his return from the COVID-19 list, Moore exploded for six catches for 131 yards on eight targets. He had two highlight-reel receptions. 

In the first quarter, Moore leapt over Kevin King and pulled down a catch in double coverage. On the final drive, Moore broke three tackles at once on a slant route and ran the ball into enemy territory, giving the Panthers a chance to win. Moore’s performance showcases why he is a top wide receiver and deserves more targets.

Negative Takeaways

The loss against the Packers confirmed what many fans already realized: the Panthers are not going to the playoffs this year. The Panthers were officially eliminated from playoff contention with the loss. 

Unfortunately, cornerback Troy Pride Jr. suffered a hip/groin injury. He is officially listed as doubtful for next week’s game against the Washington Football Team. However, this injury will most likely be season-ending for him with just two weeks remaining. 

Bridgewater continues to show that he is not a franchise quarterback — at least not for Carolina. With his goal line fumble, he continued to prove that he is not the long-term answer at the position.

If the Panthers lose out, they will be in a perfect spot to address the position in the 2021 NFL Draft. Bridgewater has a chance to redeem himself and end the season on a high note next week against Washington. Bridgewater may be auditioning for other teams over the final two weeks.

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