It is always better to win ugly than to lose pretty, and the Panthers managed to keep alive their playoff hopes with a just-enough sort of win against Tampa Bay, 19-17, Sunday.
Carolina spent most of the game in Tampa Bay territory. But backup quarterback Derek Anderson only got Carolina into the end zone once, meaning that Graham Gano's four field goals and the Panthers' defense ultimately made the difference in this one.
That Panther D had the game's biggest play, sacking Bucs quarterback Josh McCown at his own 4 in the third quarter with Carolina trailing, 10-9. That led to the Panthers' only touchdown -- a slant from Anderson to Jerricho Cotchery.
McCown was mostly terrible, throwing the ball too late or too early on numerous occasions under a serious pass rush. Panther defensive end Charles Johnson is the team's highest-paid player and earned his money Sunday, constantly getting into the Bucs backfield. But McCown made one huge play with a 16-yard TD run that brought Tampa Bay to within 19-17 with 3:11 left.
Carolina missed Cam Newton for sure, but Anderson did enough to win (his one interception was negated by a very fortunate roughing-the-passer call). He also utilized tight end Greg Olsen beautifully. Needing to kill the clock on the final drive, the Panthers almost blew it with Jonathan Stewart's second fumble of the game, although this time Stewart recovered it. And Anderson then threw two nice passes to Kelvin Benjamin for first downs that meant Tampa Bay ultimately only got the ball back at its own 10 with no timeouts and 0:23 left on the clock. Luke Kuechly's interception sealed it two plays later.
As for Carolina's playoff chances: Atlanta (5-9) did its part, losing to Pittsburgh, 27-20. If New Orleans (still 5-8) loses to Chicago Monday night, the Panthers (5-8-1) will become the unlikely leaders of the NFC South and need only to win their last two games (against Cleveland and Atlanta) to secure a playoff spot for the second straight year. Cleveland also lost badly Sunday, 30-0 to Cincinnati, in rookie Johnny Manziel's awful first start. It will be interesting to see whether that experiment only lasts for a week.
1 year ago