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Eagles’ next opponent blows potential game-winning drive

The Panthers’ sloppy play, decision-making and inability to finish cost them dearly...

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers move to 3-2 after botching a late game comeback against the Washington Redskins’, who move to 3-2. It wasn’t just the final drive that went south for the Eagles’ next opponent; things got off to a rocky start after their sloppy play against the New York Giants’ leaked into the first half of the game.

Three turnovers, including two lost fumbles from rookie wide receiver DJ Moore and an arm punt interception from Cam Newton led to the Panthers going down 17-0. Despite his anemic first half averaging 4.8 yards per attempt, Redskins’ quarterback Alex Smith did enough to rack up a three-score lead, including this 22-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis.

Going down early neutralized what the the Panthers do best on offense, run the ball. Christian McCaffrey wouldn’t see carries from the stretch between the opening drive and the end of the 2nd half. On the day he would carry the ball just 8 times for 20 yards and contributed more as a receiver (7-46-0).

Coaching also played a role in the Panthers’ struggles. An early decision to not go for it on 4th & 1 from their own 47-yard line led to a touchback, while the Redskins would prove more aggressive in a similar situation and be rewarded.

Down 17-6 and inside the two minute warning, the Panthers got ultra-conservative and ended up giving the Redskins back the ball on within 33 yards of their end zone. They were bailed out by an intentional grounding penalty by Alex Smith, but the mindset shown by the Panthers’ coach, dubbed “Riverboat Ron”, was the antithesis for which the nickname stands.

The Panthers’ offense and defense would clean things up in the second half. Newton took over with his arm and his legs and dragged the Panthers back to a one-score game with a touchdown pass to Torrey Smith (shown below) and subsequent 2-point conversion. They took a page out of the Indianapolis Colts’ playbook by attacking the Redskins defense with mesh and bunch rub concepts at the end of the drive with excellent results.

An untimely facemask call on defensive tackle Vernon Butler, followed by 12 and 10-yard runs by Adrian Peterson would set up a field goal to put the game at 23-17 with 3:11 remaining in the game.

Newton’s hot hand continued to heat up on the potential game-winning drive. Marching 68 yards down the field, the Panthers were set up with 2nd & 5 from the Redskins 16-yard line. The result? Miss. Miss. Miss.

It’s an unfortunate end for a quarterback that has been criticized for his accuracy issues, to varying degrees of correctness, throughout his career. The loss will land on his shoulders, but the coaching staff and early fumbles from Moore also deserve a good deal of the blame. Two straight weeks of sloppy football after a bye is a bad sign for the Panthers even with their plus-.500 record.

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