The Carolina Panthers faced a tough task earlier today: they were taking on the defending NFC Champions in their first game of the 2019 NFL Regular Season. In the opening minutes, it looked like it the Panthers would take control.
Not so fast, according to the Los Angeles Rams. After the Panthers were looking to enter the Rams’ red zone via a catch from wide receiver D.J. Moore, the Rams forced Moore to fumble the ball, which flipped the switch.
Well, the Rams did not exactly take control. Greg Zuerlein, the Rams’ starting kicker, got the Rams’ (and game’s) first points with a 49-yard field goal at the 13:43 mark of the game. After a touchdown run from running back Malcolm Brown, another field goal from Zuerlein, and a field goal as time expired in the first half from Panthers’ starting kicker Joey Slye, the Rams were up 13-3 at the half.
The Panthers and their high-powered offense had not started to churn yet. The Moore catch in the first quarter looked like it would have led to that, but a fumble thwarted the threat. Enter Ron Rivera, who is known for giving excellent halftime speeches.
Whatever Rivera said at halftime must have worked, as Christian McCaffrey scored the Panthers’ first touchdown of the 2019 NFL Regular Season at the 8:28 mark of the third quarter. After a Slye field goal to end the third quarter, McCaffrey put another touchdown on the board not even two minutes into the final quarter. 23-20 Rams.
The Rams marched down the field, with Tyler Higbee scoring a touchdown. Panthers fullback Alex Armah scored a touchdown just under the two-minute mark, but the Rams were able to run out the clock.
The Panthers seemed like they had the opportunities to win, but they could not convert. So what happened?
The first opportunity the Panthers missed was the drive that ended in a D.J. Moore fumble. Moore was known for having undesirable ball control last year, and he showed it again in the first quarter. Going forward, the Panthers will have to ensure that Moore works on ball security in practice.
The second opportunity the Panthers missed was late in the fourth quarter after cornerback James Bradberry intercepted a Jared Goff pass. Out of the possession change, Cam Newton ran a quarterback draw, McCaffrey gained four yards, and a pass was incomplete for Curtis Samuel. Punt.
Tight End Higbee would score next possession for the Rams, stretching the lead to 30-20. After the Panthers got the ball back, Newton threw an interception upon trying to link up with his favorite target, Greg Olsen. A missed field goal from Greg Zuerlein and the Panthers got the ball back.
After getting the ball back, the Panthers would score a touchdown just under the two-minute mark. With time against them after the Rams recovered the onside kick, Gurley finished off the game after picking up a first down facing third-and-two. Game over. Rams win.
When they were winning last year, the Panthers usually cashed in on their opportunities. They had a couple of come-from-behind wins, most notably their game against the New York Giants.
But that was not the case today. It was the first game of the season, so I will cut the Panthers a little slack.
If the Panthers want to win on Thursday against the Buccaneers, however, they will need to capitalize on almost every opportunity. The Buccaneers might not be as flashy as the Rams on defense, but they are a good team that will make you pay with their offense (James Winston, Mike Evans).
In practice this week, I expect the Panthers to run the two-minute drill. Do not fret, Panthers fans: it is only Week One, and we took the defending NFC Champions to the wire.