The Carolina Panthers (6-6) traveled north to Ohio this week for a matchup against the Cleveland Browns (4-7-1). The Panthers, with this season’s playoff hopes on the line, needed a game plan that included getting on the board early for any hopes of getting the team back in the win column.
PANTHERS KEYS TO THE GAME:
Score quickly / protect the football
Dominate the red zone on defense
Set the edge, force the Browns into 3rd and long situations and limit Baker Mayfield’s big pass play ability
Right out of the gate, the Panthers were able to get on the board with a cocktail of Christian McCaffrey plays. During the scoring drive that ended with a four yard McCaffrey run to put the Panthers up 7-0 - his 12th TD of the year – the Panthers learned who they would need to keep active to have success against Cleveland.
Later, after a 66 yard Baker Mayfield bomb to Breshad Perriman to set up a three yard jet sweep to Jarvis Landry to tie the game, the Browns appeared set to test the struggling Carolina defense.
The one point of emphasis the Panthers were not able to address in the first half was the containment of Baker Mayfield. Midway through the second quarter, Mayfield connected with Landry again for a 51 yard touchdown to tie the game 14-14. The big-play bug that had been ailing the Panthers appeared to be re-infecting the defense despite Ron Rivera’s takeover.
A bright spot was newly acquired kicker Chandler Catanzaro was successful on his first field goal attempt as a Panther which might come in handy if the game remained tight. But the Brown’s marched downfield with time running out in the half as easily as the previous two scoring drives to tie the game at 17-17.
To start the second half Luke Keuchly, who was instrumental in a big turnover in the first half, was at it again. Kuechly forced the fumble after a Landry reception to give Carolina the ball with a short field but they could not capitalize and the bigger questioned still remained – would the secondary finally figure things out. They did not.
Although the defense attempted mixing up coverage a lot more in the second half, there was still a lack of consistency in the secondary. In the fourth quarter, Cleveland faced three-and-out, but a defensive holding penalty on third-and-3 opened the door for Cleveland’s Jarvis Landry to rip off a 51 yard rush to the Carolina 4 yard line. Nick Chubb pushed it in to give the Browns their first lead of the game.
The Panthers final chance at a victory and a more likely playoff appearance were dashed after a miscue between Devin Funchess and Cam Newton who finished 26-of-42 for 265 yards and an interception. The interception gave Cleveland the ball with less than a minute left in the game to hand the Panthers their fifth straight loss and preserve the 26-20 victory over Carolina.
“We try to get it rectified every day in practice. Unfortunately, it’s not sticking, and we need to continue to work on it as coaches to make sure we’re getting it across,” Ron Rivera said after the game.
Ian Thomas – Thomas’ performance today of 77 yards on 9 receptions allows Cam Newton to still utilize the Tight End position with a very similar reliability to Greg Olsen.
DJ Moore – Moore is becoming an effective option for the Panthers. But with Cam Newton struggling with throwing the ball, taking advantage of Moore as an option may be limited.
The Offense – Communication, Communication, Communication is the biggest enemy of the Panthers offense.
Baker Mayfield – Whether you like his brash nature or not, Baker Mayfield is the new Sheriff in Cleveland. Mayfield’s 18-of-22 for 238, 1 TD shows his confidence as well as performances prove that he is here to stay.
So now the challenge for the Panthers will be to remain connected in the locker room as they struggle to find answers on both sides of the ball.
The Panthers return home to take on that challenge as they host the New Orleans Saints on Monday night December 17th at Bank of America Stadium.