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1st-And-10: Panthers Fumble Away A Win Against Redskins

Ryan Chell
October 14, 2018 - 8:16 pm

This Panthers team was riding a ton of momentum going into Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins. 

Not only was this team on a high after Graham Gano's electrifying 63-yard field goal to win 33-31 over the New York Giants last Sunday, but the Panthers' emotional leaders Thomas Davis (four-game suspension) and tight end Greg Olsen (broken foot) returning to their lineup on each side of the ball. 

It was supposed to be the perfect scenario for Carolina. 

But two fumbles from rookie DJ Moore in the first half dug this Panthers team deep in a hole - one that they never were really able to climb out of. 

Quarterback Cam Newton's pass to Jarius Wright looped over his head trailing 23-17 with :38 seconds left, and the Panthers had to turn the ball over on downs and were handed their second loss of the season. 

Moore's first fumble came after the Redskins' first drive after Washington was forced to punt. 

Moore fielded the punt clearly but after gaining only a yard, Redskins linebacker Shaun Hamilton knocked the ball out from Moore and Washington took over at the Carolina 22-yard line. 

One play later, Alex Smith found Vernon Davis right now the middle for a 22-yard score - faking out safety Eric Reid to go up 7-0 with 10:26 to go. 

Moore's second miscue came after a 17-yard gain by the Panthers rookie with 11:32 in the second quarter. 

Trying to fight for extra yards, former Panther Josh Norman "Peanut Punched" the ball out of Moore's hand. 

The Redskins would then cap off a 10 play, 36-yard drive that took 5:54 off the clock to go up 17-0 in the waning minutes of the first half. 

"Tough beginning of the game," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said postgame. "When you turn the ball over that way, it's going to be tough to win the football game. They took advantage of a couple mistakes we made, and it cost us at the end."

Moore's quarterback also stepped up for his wideout. 

Despite the mental mistakes by Moore, Rivera said there was never a thought about "benching" the rookie. 

"I think this is all about building confidence. DJ is going to be a part of what we do for years to come..if we believe in them, we're going to keep putting them out there. That's the only way these guys are going to learn and develop into players we know they can be."

TE Greg Olsen, who made his return today, agreed with his head coach, and said no player - from an NFL rookie to a multiple-time Pro Bowler - is perfect out there. 

"

Rivera agreed. 

"We'll stick with them...I'm not too concerned with punishing players making mistakes as much as much as we are developing [players> and making sure they are learning and growing," Rivera said in defense of Moore. 

#2 - And Old Friend Makes His Presence Known

Much of the talk this week would be the second time that former Panther Josh Norman - who was let go following the 2015 season after Dave Gettleman rescinded the franchise tag on the Panthers star corner - would face his old team. 

And with Norman making headlines this week for his Twitter-beef with Saints WR Michael Thomas and his benching in the second half by Redskins head coach Jay Gruden for not taking off his headphones in the locker room at the half, the lights were clearly going to be focused on the Washington corner on Sunday. 

And Norman showed up. 

With the Panthers trailing 14-0 to start the second quarter - faced with a 3rd-and-16 at their own 47-yard line, Cam Newton tried to throw a ball down the field to Devin Funchess, who had beaten his man on a double-move. 

But with Newton's arm hit on the play, the bail sailed up in the air - right into the arms of Norman. 

If there was any play that he wanted to make, Norman said that was it. 

“I wouldn’t let God’s angels take that ball if they were up there with me," he said. 

Two drives later, Norman forced the fumble on DJ Moore as he fought for extra yards - making it a three-score game for the home team. 

It was those plays that Norman said got his team moving forward in a positive direction. 

"It's not one guy that makes this thing go," Norman told Redskins postgame after the win. "It's all 11 guys...at the end of the day, it's all 53 guys...everything we do, we do within each other."

#3 - Thomas Davis Makes His Return

Making his return this week from this four-game suspension for a performance-enhancing drug suspension was linebacker Thomas Davis

Leading the team onto the field for pre-game, Davis finished second on the team in tackles with six and had two big pass-breakups - including one on a nice play to start the second half, as his deflection on Jordan Reed on a 4th-and-four at the Carolina 38-yard line prevented the Redskins from driving deeper into Panther territory. 

Davis and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly did the best they could to contain a short-yardage passing attack by the Washington Redskins, and found the mixed results. 

Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Reed was held to five catches for 36 yards, while his position-mate Vernon Davis had three catches for 48 yards and the game's first score. 

The Panthers allowed the Redskins to convert nearly 44% of their third-down conversions in the game, and the Redskins owned the time of possession battle (35:24 to 24:36) as the Carolina defense could not get off the field. 

After having issues containing RB Saquon Barkley last week, they yet again struggled to stop another opposing back as RB Adrian Peterson nearly reached the century mark on this Panthers defense - finishing with 97 yards on 17 carries. 

The Panthers are 0-2 this season when allowing more than 100 yards on the ground. 

#4 - What happened to the running game? 

While the Panthers struggled to stop the run, Carolina couldn't get theirs going. 

Running back Christian McCaffrey, who three weeks ago finished with 184 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals, was a non-factor in the run game Sunday. 

McCaffrey finished with just eight carries for 20 yards in Sunday's loss - three of them coming on the game's opening drive. 

Backup running back CJ Anderson was in on one snap - the second play of the game.

Cam Newton finished as the leading rusher for the Panthers with 43 yards on nine carries. 

Per Bill Voth of Panthers.com, the 81 rushing yards for Carolina was their fewest since a Week 6 loss last season to the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. 

#5 - Torrey Smith Comes Up Big

For much of this season, the chemistry between quarterback Cam Newton and two-time Super Bowl champ Torrey Smith has been in question. 

But with the Panthers trailing 20-9 to start the fourth quarter, Newton and Smith found each other five times on the drive - including an 3-yard strike that drew Carolina within three after a two-point conversion. 

That Smith caught. 

Smith finished with five catches for 43 yards on as many targets. 

#6 - Devin Funchess "Moss'ed" 

With a game of very few highlights for the Panthers, if anyone can hang their head high during Monday's film session, it's WR Devin Funchess

Trailing 17-0 with 3:05 left in the first half, Cam Newton found Funchess for a 23-yard touchdown strike - which was Newton's first completed pass over 20 yards this season. 

And it couldn't have come in more dramatic fashion - with Funchess catching the ball over Redskins CB Quinton Dunbar...

One-handed. 

Not bad for a guy who was criticized a week ago for his cramps. 

Funchess finished Sunday with five catches for 74 yards and his 19th touchdown in a Panthers uniform, which ties him with current New Orlean Saint Ted Ginn for fifth in team history. 

#7 - Greg Olsen Makes His Return

In 2017, Panthers TE Greg Olsen re-aggravated his broken foot last year against the New York Jets, and there was always a lingering fear that after rushing himself back after the same injury this season, that he would maybe do the same. 

But fortunately for the Panthers, no such concern presented itself - as Olsen played all but one of the 58 plays the Panthers ran on Sunday.

Olsen finished with four catches for 48 yards and was targed seven times by quarterback Cam Newton.

#8 - Panthers Defensive Line 

One of the biggest question marks this season has been this Panthers defensive line. 

With three sacks and six quarterback hits on Alex Smith, you could call this a "bounce-back" game from Eric Washington's unit. 

DE Julius Peppers did force a strip-sack of Smith early in the fourth quarter, but Redskins left tackle scooped up the ball and advanced it four yards - which gave kicker Dustin Hopkins just enough room on his 56-yard field goal, making the score 20-9. 

Peppers, who recorded his first sack of the season, needs five sacks more to pass former Panther Kevin Greene for 4th all-time.  

Washington scored 14 points in the first quarter, the most Carolina has allowed this season.

In four previous games, the Panthers had only allowed 13 total points in the first quarter. 

In a positive, Alex Smith was held to just 163 yards passing on 36 attempts. 

#9 - Panthers Special Teams - Not So Special 

A week after kicker Graham Gano kicked a 63-yard field goal to lift the Panthers to victory, Gano took a step back - missing the extra point on the team's first touchdown. 

He was held to just one field goal in the loss - a 32-yard field goal that extended his NFL-best streak of 25 consecutive field goals made. 

#10 - Panthers Questionable Play-Calls

Despite the 17-0 early deficit for Carolina, the team was left with a chance to potentially win the game in the final minutes of Sunday's contest. 

Faced with a 2nd-and-5 with 0:47 left on the clock - with two timeouts left in their back pocket and at the Redskins 16-yard line, Ron Rivera and Norv Turner decided to take shots in the end zone to try and take the lead. 

Newton's pass on 2nd down sailed out of the back of the end zone. 

The Panthers attempted another pass down the left side of the field to Devin Funchess for third down. 

And on 4th down, Newton tried to loft a ball to Jarius Wright six yards past the line of scrimmage and past the first down marker, but the pass fell incomplete and the Redskins would run out the clock to win the game. 

Wright was adamant postgame that he was held by the Redskins defender, but it was not called on the field. 

Notable: 

-Washington snaps a five-game losing streak against the Panthers in the series, and is Ron Rivera's first loss to Washington. Overall, the Redskins lead the series 8-6. 

- With two touchdowns in today's game, Cam Newton tied Brett Favre for third-most touchdowns (224) by a quarterback through his first eight seasons. The only guys ahead of that face were former Dolphins QB Dan Marino with 246 and former Colts/Bronocs QB Peyton Manning with 253. 

Follow Ryan Chell on Twitter at @RyanChellWFNZ and be sure to catch all your Panther reactions on WFNZ, 6am-6pm ET with "The Mac Attack (6-10am ET), "Wilson and Parcell" (10am-2pm ET) and "Garcia and Bailey (2-6pmET)" on 610AM and 102.5 FM! 

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