By David Rogers. October 6, 2019. CHARLOTTE, NC — When a football team at any level racks up fewer yards of total offense than their adversary and still wins, there is a good chance that the opposing side’s turnovers played a role in the victory.
COVER IMAGE: Christian McCaffrey (22) ran for 176 yards and two TDs, his longest run an 84-yarder in the Panthers 34-27 win over Jacksonville. All photographic images by Braxton Critcher for Blowing Rock News.
That was the case on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium where visiting Jacksonville suffered from a case of fumble fingers — not once, not twice but three drive-stopping times. On a day when the Carolina Panthers inducted four more names into their Hall of Honor, the host team mostly took advantage of the Jaguars’ gifts in winning, 34-27.
Carolina started to look dominating in jumping out to a 21-7 lead after rookie defensive end Brian Burns picked up a Gardner Minshew fumble and returned it 56 yards for the Panthers’ third TD with the second quarter barely started.
Second-year QB Kyle Allen may be securing a place for himself as a permanent replacement for the injured Cam Newton. The Texas A&M/Houston alum completed fairly pedestrian 18-of-30 passes for 181 yards and a TD (sacked 3 times), but essentially managed the offense very well, with no turnovers. He spread the ball around to seven different receivers, most prominently to DJ Moore (6 catches, 91 yards) and Christian McCaffrey (6 catches, 61 yards).
Winning is fun. It is just that simple.
McCaffrey and second-year pro RB Reggie Bonnafon (Louisville) accounted for the vast majority of Carolina’s offensive production on the ground. McCaffrey carried 19 times for 176 yards and two TDs, while Bonnafon rushed only five times — but for 80 yards (a 16 yards per carry average) and two TDs, mostly in the second half.
Bonnafon’s production included a 59-yard run that took him across the field and then down the right sideline for the final TD of the game. Up to that point, Jacksonville had battled back, narrowing the gap to 28-27 with 5:52 remaining in the game.
Bonnafon’s long TD run gave the Panthers a 34-27 lead, but placekicker Joey Slye sailed right of the goalposts with 3:34 remaining. The Panthers faithful were nervous in realizing that all Jacksonville needed to send the game into overtime was TD and PAT kick.
That nervousness intensified as Minshew & Co. began to march up the field, starting the possession from their own 30 and in just six plays had gotten the ball to the Panthers’ 39. But Burns turned out to be brilliant on this day, producing a “strip sack” of Minshew, the fumble being recovered by 3rd-year linebacker Marquis Haynes (Mississippi).
“I was just working,” Burns recalled for reporters later, “doing everything I can to get to him. I knew he was going to hold the ball because he was trying to go deep.”
On his second-quarter fumble recovery and TD run, Burns said, “I was just thinking, ‘go fast, play fast.’ He dropped to cut-block me (and) I played the cut. Mario Addison did a great job pushing his guy to the quarterback to cause a fumble. I saw the ball. See ball, get ball, and take it to the end zone.”
The fumble recovery could have been the game-ender had Carolina been able to capitalize, but what appeared to be one of the late Don Meredith’s (Monday Night Football) “turn out the lights, the party’s over” moment vanished when the Jags’ defense held the Panthers’ offense to a three-and-out. Suddenly, it was another nailbiter. The outcome hung in the balance and Jacksonville had possession with plenty of time left, especially the way their offense moved the ball in the second half.
The Panthers’ punter, Michael Palardy (Tennessee) pinned the Jaguars back on the 5-yard line to start their final possession, but Minshaw was able to move the ball to the Carolina 29. A penalty against the Panthers advanced the ball to the 24 with no time on the clock. Minshew’s pass in the direction of wide receiver Keenan Cole in the end zone was batted down by linebacker Luke Kuechly and the Panthers had improved their record to 3-2 with the win.
You can’t count that team out.
Carolina head coach Ron Rivera reserved special commendations for Jacksonville during his post-game press conference.
“This game was something else,” he said. “It’s a tribute to Jacksonville. You can’t count that team out. They have a dynamic young quarterback (Gardner Minshew). Apparently, that seems to be a (trend) throughout this league. There are a lot of young, dynamic quarterbacks making a name for themselves and (Jacksonville) has got one, with a lot of playmakers around him.”
With the win, Rivera became the winningest head coach in the team’s history for regular-season victories. Afterward, he characteristically deflected any personal praise and gave credit to others.
“It truly is a tribute to our team,” Rivera said. “I’ve been very fortunate with Mr. (former owner, Jerry) Richardson giving me my opportunity. He stood by me and I was able to get past my third season. The players that we have been tremendous…I’ve been very fortunate to have great coaching staffs…Mr. Tepper, with the things he has given us and the opportunities he is creating for this football team to get better, it’s pretty exciting.”
Turning to the game just played, Rivera was asked about the play of the Panthers offensive line.
“Awesome,” he said as a master of one-word descriptions. “Those guys are coached by John Matsko and Travelle Wharton, guys who have been with me a long time. They do a hell of a job with our (offensive linemen)…They did a heck of a job. We have some backs that can hit and go. Very happy for Christian (McCaffrey), who played the way he continues to play. It was good to see Reggie (Bonnofon) get his opportunities.
It helps when you have running backs who rush for 285 yards in a game.
“You know,” Rivera added, “Reggie Bonnafon is a guy who earned an opportunity last year to be on our practice squad because of how he played in the preseason. We watched him and he grew and grew and continues to grow. (Coach) Jake Peetz does a nice job with those running backs….”
Winning QB Kyle Allen has now won his first four career starts, a feat not seen in the NFL since Kurt Warner and the then St. Louis Rams. He also deflected personal accolades.
“It helps when you have running backs who rush for 285 yards, I’ll say that,” he smiled. “I don’t know. I mean it’s cool, but I’m (just) happy for this team to bounce back from a rough start and now we are 3-2. We have a long way to go, obviously, but I’m happy with the way we fought. I think you can see that with us on the field, we’re never out of the game. We’re going to keep fighting, no matter what, and we are going to win games in different ways because we can. Today was the running game and I couldn’t be more excited for our offensive line.”
Allen waxed profound near the end of his time in front of the microphones.
“Winning is fun. It is as simple as that,” he said. “Winning is fun.”
Next week the Panthers fly “across the pond” to London, England, where they will get a rematch with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who defeated them in the second game of the season, 20-14, in a rare home loss. With today’s win, Carolina is in 2nd place in the NFC South Division, at 3-2, while Tampa Bay is 2-3 after losing on the road to New Orleans (4-1), 31-24. Upon returning from England, the Panthers will enjoy a bye week before going on the road again, this time a cross-country trip to face the so far undefeated San Francisco 49ers (4-0) in Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, CA).
Jacksonville (2-3) hosts South Division leader New Orleans (4-1) on October 13th, before traveling to Cincinatti on the 20th.
SELECTED TEAM STATS
- Total Net Offense — CAR 445, JAX 507
- Rushing Yards — CAR 285, JAX 149
- Passing Yards — CAR 160, JAX 358
- Penalties — CAR 9-84, JAX 8-70
- Time of Possession — CAR 27:36, JAX 32:24
- Third Down Efficiency — CAR 4-12 (33%), JAX 6-13 (46%)
- Fourth Down Efficiency — CAR 0-1 (0%), JAX 0-0 (0%)
- Interceptions — CAR 0, JAX 0
- Fumbles Lost — CAR 0, JAX 3
SELECTED INDIVIDUAL STATS
- JAX – Gardner Minshew 26-44-374, 2 TDs
- CAR – Kyle Allen 17-30-181, 1 TD
- CAR — Christian McCaffrey 19-176, 2 TDs
- JAX — Leonard Fournette 23-108, 1 TD
- CAR — Reggie Bonnafon 5-80, 1 TD
- JAX — Gardner Minshew 7-42
- JAX — DJ Chark 8-164, 2 TDs
- CAR — DJ Moore 6-91
- JAX — Dede Westbrook 7-82
- CAR — Christian McCaffrey 6-61, 1 TD
- JAX — James O’Shaughnessy 3-57