STILL IN THE HUNT: Panthers Throttle Down Chargers, 28-16

STILL IN THE HUNT: Panthers Throttle Down Chargers, 28-16
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By David Rogers. December 11, 2016. CHARLOTTE, NC — It was a strange game with oddly unique moments.  The Carolina Panthers scored 23 points in an injury-riddled first half on Sunday before outlasting the San Diego Chargers, 28-16, in front of a half-capacity crowd at Bank of America Stadium.

COVER IMAGE: Did I make it? Cam Newton was judged to be just short on this QB keeper, but Jonathan Stewart followed a play later with a 1-yard scoring plunge. All photographic images by Brad Batchelor for Blowing Rock News

Although neither team produced even 300 yards of total offense, the visiting Chargers were short-circuited on a cold, overcast day that saw the Panthers’ stout defense intercept San Diego’s veteran quarterback Philip Rivers three times.  Add to that the home team’s “D” recovery of two Charger fumbles.

Carolina’s rather anemic offense did very little to capitalize on the five San Diego turnovers, settling for four Graham Gano field goals — of which three were from 41 yards or more.

Please Call 9-1-1

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Rookie running back Kenneth Farrow (27) was called upon to carry the Chargers’ rushing load when starter Melvin Gordon was injured early and unable to return. Uh, not supposed to leave behind your helmet!

Most of the NFL games with 1:00 pm EST kickoffs were already finished when the Panthers-Chargers matchup still had almost 10 minutes left to play.  The “overtime” primarily was a result of long play stoppages for the bruised and broken. Action was halted a total of seven times for injuries, including five times in the first half alone.  San Diego took the brunt of the physical play, with five of the stoppages for Charger victims.

We created some takeaways and established good field position.

If the number of injuries didn’t create enough intrigue, two challenged calls were reversed by replay officials — and both reversals went in favor of the Panthers.

One of the plays, early in the 4th quarter with Carolina leading 26-16, saw the Panthers threatening to score with 1st-and-10 on the San Diego 4-yard line. Charger cornerback Trovon Reed stepped in front of a Cam Newton pass and wrestled it free from 3rd year WR Kelvin Benjamin, the intended receiver. Although not tackled, Reed fell to the ground — but quickly scrambled to his feet and outraced all defenders to the other end of the field for an apparent touchdown.

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Philip Rivers of the Chargers passed for 236 yards and 2 TDs, including 6 completions to Dontrelle Inman (15), but in the end couldn’t overcome hurling 3 INTs

If it stood, Reed’s TD would have closed the San Diego deficit to just 3 points (assuming a PAT kick was good), with plenty of time on the clock to potentially score again.  Carolina challenged the ruling, claiming that Reed was down by contact on the San Diego 3-yard line.  Their challenge was upheld and the call was reversed.

Although they kept the interception, Reed’s TD was nullified and the Chargers were forced to begin the new offensive series with their backs to the goal line. Three plays later, Carolina defensive end Mario Addison sacked San Diego’s Rivers in the end zone for a safety. The two-point tally for the Panthers proved to be the final points of the game.

Handsprings and Jumping Jacks

Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart figured in a play that will undoubtedly make a legion of the weekend’s TV highlight reels. Running around the left side he was flipped upside down by a would-be tackler, but he was able to “head roll” on top of another player’s foot on his way to a 20-yard rushing gain. It was the veteran RB’s longest play of the day, and more than a third of his 66 total yards rushing on 24 carries. The Chargers challenged that he was down by contact, but television replays clearly showed that neither Stewart’s helmet — nor any other part of his body — touched the ground until after he was brought to earth at the San Diego 40.

Asked afterwards if he thought his “somersault play” would go viral on social media, Stewart chuckled when he said, “I’ll retweet it and put it on my Instagram.”

In response to a Blowing Rock News question during his post-game press conference, Carolina head coach Ron Rivera was similarly all smiles about the play. “It was awesome,” said Rivera. “I saw it the whole way and I was trying to cheer him on. It’s kind of neat because Jonathan is a physical player. When he gets rolling (no pun intended), I think it really helps with our (team) mentality.”

Offensively, we have to put up points. Touchdowns, that is, not just field goals.

Given the three interceptions by Carolina of Philip Rivers’ passes, Rivera was understandably pleased with his young cornerbacks.

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Even though Newton passed for only 160 yards and 1 TD vs. 1 INT, at times he looked like the Newton of old.

“I think those young corners are showing what they are capable of,” Rivera observed. “They are developing. It is nice to have them out there. The hard part obviously for both of those guys is they missed a little bit of time. Now they are out there and they are getting the opportunity to play fulltime. That is huge — and good to see.”

Carolina put early pressure on Rivers and the San Diego offense — and it paid off. The Chargers didn’t find the end zone until there was just 1:03 remaining in the first half and Carolina was well ahead, 23-0, thanks to turnovers, solid defense, and reasonably good ball control on offense.

“Yes, that (early pressure) was the attitude,” Rivera admitted. “That was the idea: to have it happen early and we were able to do that and have success. We created some takeaways and (established) good field position. Early on, the field position was huge. We would have loved to see us punch it in and score some touchdowns, as opposed to field goals.”

Newton was candid after the game in assessing the offensive performance as much less than complete.  “It wasn’t. The defense played lights out for us and gave us unbelievable field position. You know, offensive — not to rain on the win — we have to put up points. Points, as in getting touchdowns. If (we had done that) the game is out of hand earlier and that is what imposing our will is. We have to have that type of mentality, that killer instinct. And we didn’t have it.”

With the win, Carolina is 5-8 on the season. Although not mathematically eliminated, they need a lot of help from other teams in order to earn a wild card spot in the playoffs since, with three games remaining, their best possible regular finish is 8-8. They could help their cause greatly by defeating the Atlanta Falcons at home on December 24th and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on January 1st (in Tampa) to close the season. Both of those division rivals are currently sitting atop the NFC West standings with 8-5 records, so the Panthers winning their last three games and the Buccaneers and Falcons losing their last three games would create a logjam at the top. But there is a possibility for a 4-way tie with 8-8 records since Atlanta and Tampa Bay both play the Saints who, like the Panthers, are currently sitting at 5-8 and need to win out.

Carolina starts its season-ending series next week with a Monday night encounter vs. the Washington Redskins, in the nation’s capital. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 pm EST and the game will be telecast on ESPN.

COMPREHENSIVE GAME STATS

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