This is what happens when you don’t put teams away — you wind up paying for it.
On the stat sheet from the Carolina Panthers’ game against the Cleveland Browns — everything pointed to a Panthers victory. They held the ball for seven more minutes than the Browns, ran 24 more plays, won the turnover battle 2-1 and held the Browns to 18 yards in the third quarter.
But they didn’t put the Browns away. And the Panthers fell 26-20, their fifth consecutive loss.
The Panthers either held a one-score lead or were tied for most of the game. They recovered a fumble on the first play of the second half, but a false start on fourth down knocked them out of field goal range.
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Later in the quarter, a holding penalty negated a Christian McCaffrey touchdown — although they somewhat salvaged the drive with a field goal.
Then it all went bad.
Cleveland took a three-point lead less than two minutes into the fourth quarter and doubled it five minutes later. With just less than three minutes remaining, the Panthers had an opportunity to take the lead but couldn’t convert on fourth-and-goal from the 3.
Like bad teams do, though, the Browns gave the Panthers another shot, punting the ball back with just over a minute to play. But Cam Newton threw an interception on their first play to seal the game, the Panthers’ fifth-straight loss, and potentially the season.
Good teams put their opponent away while they have momentum, but the Panthers haven’t been a good team since October.
Three who mattered
Luke Kuechly: Kuechly took it upon himself to get Carolina’s offense the best field position possible. He forced two fumbles in Cleveland territory, both of which were recovered by the Panthers.
Ian Thomas: The rookie showed why the Panthers drafted him in the fourth round as the heir apparent to Greg Olsen, soaking up targets in his first start since Olsen’s injury. He finished with nine catches on 10 targets for 77 yards.
Jarvis Landry: Landry scored through the air and on the ground, racking up 57 yards on three catches and another 54 yards on two carries.
▪ Cam Newton’s pregame cleats — colored brown and orange with the phrase, “It’s not the size of the DAWG in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the dog” — was a not-so-hard-to-decipher slight at the Cleveland Browns’ colors and “DAWG POUND” fan base.
▪ The game time temperature was announced at 28 degrees, which was somehow an improvement over the 32-degree freezing rain in Charlotte.
▪ Baker Mayfield had 176 passing yards in the first half but 117 of them came on two plays. He finished 18 of 22 for 238 yards and a touchdown and wasn’t intercepted.
▪The Panthers forced a turnover for the second straight game after going three games without one from Week 10 to Week 12.
▪Christian McCaffrey’s 101 total yards marked his lowest output since he put up 56 yards in Carolina’s Week 8 game against Baltimore.
▪ Thomas caught a career-high five passes in the first half, alone, for 42 yards.
▪ Captain Munnerlyn’s sack in the third quarter was the ninth of his career and first since Oct. 27, 2017.
▪ The Browns had plays of 66, 51, 51, 29 and 28 yards. That’s 225 of their 348 net yards, and a 45-yard average for those five plays. Cleveland averaged 3.075 yards on the remaining 40 offensive plays they ran.
They said it
▪ “I better not see one player in this locker room give up on this team, give up on their brothers.” – Thomas Davis on the team’s mentality for the final three games of the season.
▪ “I don’t care if I get fined, I thought it was bull.” – Captain Munnerlyn on his defensive holding penalty that negated a Panthers sack.
▪ “When you’re losing, the bad stuff stands out.” – Donte Jackson.