By David Rogers. November 3, 2019. CHARLOTTE, NC — Returning to Bank of America Stadium’s friendly confines after five weeks on the road is just what the doctor ordered, as far as Ron Rivera is concerned. The head coach’s Carolina Panthers rebounded from last week’s disaster in San Francisco to bring the Tennessee Titans down to size, 30-20.
COVER IMAGE: Christian McCaffrey (22) looks to turn the corner against Tennessee in the first half. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Carolina led from start to finish, although neither side scored in the first quarter as they traded mistakes and miscues. Then the Panthers scored 17 unanswered points in the second period to put Tennessee in a hole at halftime, helped toward that end by self-inflicted penalties and turnovers.
The Titans came out of intermission with a decisive, nearly flawless drive to open the second half, moving the ball 67 yards in eight plays and keeping Carolina’s offense off the field for nearly five minutes (4:49). Wearing #22, former Alabama running back Derrick Henry finished off the drive with an 8-yard TD-scoring run to shrink the Carolina lead to 10, at 17-7. In 2015, Henry won the Heisman Trophy, beating out the Panthers’ own #22, running back Christian McCaffrey and the Jacksonville Jaguars star RB, Leonard Fournette. In a touching, but also amusing moment after Sunday’s game, McCaffrey and Henry were seen trying to trade their #22 jerseys — but both had problems getting them off over their shoulder pads.
For his part, McCaffrey continued his torrid 2019 performance, rolling up 146 yards rushing on 24 carries that included two TDs. One of those scoring runs was a scintillating 58-yard scamper after he broke through the middle and into the Titan secondary, outrunning all defenders. Clearly in the conversation for MVP honors at season’s end if he keeps this up, McCaffrey also caught three passes for 20 yards, including one TD.
Receiving better protection this week from his offensive line, “more than a stand-in for Cam Newton” quarterback Kyle Allen recovered from a dismal showing a week ago in San Francisco. He put up more than respectable numbers against the Titans, completing 17 of 32 passes for 232 yards and two TDs vs. throwing just one INT.
While wide receiver Curtis Samuel was Allen’s other TD pass recipient, most of the Panthers’ aerial damage was done with Allen hooking up with DJ Moore, who caught 10 passes for 101 yards. Samuel pulled in three catches for 64 yards and the one TD.
All in all, Carolina used a more aggressive offensive scheme against Tennessee compared to other games this season, with more downfield passes and very few screen passes or short passes to backs coming out of the backfield.
“We knew their scheme and how (the Titans’ defense) have played offenses in the past,” Allen shared with reporters afterward, “so we knew we were going to have to take a lot of shots down field today. We knew that their defense was not going to (allow) a lot of underneath stuff…You have to make those plays downfield. Going into the game, that was going to be the plan and I think we converted on a lot of them. There are still some wel left out there, but we converted on a lot of those deep shots.”
A little chicanery never hurts in football, either, for firing up the team and the hometown fans. Early in the third quarter, after Tennessee had scored a touchdown on the second half’s opening possession, Carolina appeared headed for a three-and-out series, lined up in punt formation on 4th-and-4, the ball on their own 36 yard line. But instead of the snap from center going to punter Mike Palardy, it went to reserve cornerback and special teams star Colin Jones, who dashed around the right side and muscled his way to a first down.
The trick play led to another McCaffrey touchdown, expanding the Panthers’ lead to 24-7.
“Missed opportunities, the other team creating turnovers, and you give up a fake (punt),” said Tennessee Titans’ veteran safety Kenny Vacaro, “and it’s 99.9 percent that you lose. When I was with the (New Orleans) Saints, they were big on analytics. Those three things…you are going to lose.”
The rebound win gives Carolina some momentum as they travel to Green Bay next Sunday to play the Packers. Carolina is now 5-3, while Tennessee (which has not yet had their bye week) falls to 4-5.