By David Rogers. September 27, 2020. LOS ANGELES, CA — Whether you call it a Carolina field goal frenzy or simply “Joey Skye Day,” Sunday’s NFL game between the Carolina Panthers and the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood was nonetheless a “W” for the visitors from North Carolina — their first of the year. It was not without some late drama, but Carolina prevailed, 21-16.
COVER IMAGE: Carolina placekicker Joey Slye slotted five field goals on the day for the Panthers at Los Angeles Chargers in SoFi Stadium. All photographic images by Craig Weston for Blowing Rock News.
Carolina placekicker Joey Skye, the second year pro out of Virginia Tech, connected on five field goals, including four of them in the first half. Making good on relative chip shots from 29 and 24 yards in the first quarter to open the day’s scoring, Skye’s leg allowed the Panthers to hold a 6-0 lead at the end of the first period. His 30- and 22-yard field goals in the second quarter were sandwiched around Carolina’s lone touchdown of the day, a quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to running back Mike Davis coming out of the backfield for 13-yard scamper to paydirt pushing the Queen City gridders to an 18-7 advantage at halftime.
Skye slotted a 31-yard FG early in the fourth quarter to complete Carolina’s scoring on the day.
The Chargers scored on an Austin Ekeler touchdown run at the 14:14 mark of the second quarter and followed up with a 41-yard field goal by Michael Badgley near the end of the third quarter to narrow their deficit to 18-10.
Even after falling behind 21-10 when Slye hit his final FG of the day for the Panther, Los Angeles was not out of it until the final seconds of the day. Led by quarterback Justin Herbert, the Chargers pulled to within five points when the rookie QB from Oregon hit veteran wide receiver Keenan Allen for a 14-yard TD aerial and still 4:33 remaining on the clock.
The Panthers responded with a couple of first downs, but their final possession stalled on 4th-and-13 from the Chargers’ 40-yard line. Joseph Charlton’s punt was initially ruled a touchback, but after video review that call was reversed and the ball placed on the 1-yard line. The Chargers’ grim reality: they needed a touchdown to win the game, they had to go 99 yards to get it, and they had 1:46 to do it in.
Herbert ALMOST manufactured a winning drive. Primarily featuring short passes to running back Ekeler, Los Angeles got the ball into Panther territory with 29 seconds to play, then Herbert hit Allen on the right side for a 21 yard gain, taking the ball to the Carolina 23 with 12 seconds on the clock. A “false start” penalty set LA back to the 28, but they still had a couple of chances to find the end zone. Operating out of the shotgun, Herbert could not connect with Allen in the end zone, the ball falling incomplete.
With six seconds remaining, it was do or die time for the regular tenants of SoFi Stadium. It was time to open up the playbook for a little razzle-dazzle. Herbert found Allen on the 14-yard line. After catching the pass, Allen attempted to lateral the ball to Ekeler sweeping by on the outside. Whether you call the play a flea-flicker or hook-and-ladder, Ekeler was unable to corral the lateral and it ended up being a fumble as time expired, with the Panthers recovering.
Afterward, Carolina head coach Matt Rhule was buoyant after picking up his first NFL head coaching win.
“I just left the locker room,” Rhule said. “Really happy for those guys. They fought, they scratched, they clawed. I thought it was a great team win. Not perfect – I’ve got to find all the things we didn’t do well – but hey, that might be the good news, that we found a way to win on the road despite things not being perfect. After a win, you don’t want to single too many guys out but I just really appreciate and am proud of the effort of the guys that stepped up with Christian [McCaffrey], Russell [Okung] and KK [Kawaan Short] being down. I thought we found a lot of production in those areas from a lot of guys. Excited for our team. Excited to get back to Charlotte.”
The fact that Slye kicked so many field goals during the course of the game underlines an important observation: the Panthers struggled in the red zone, converting only one of six trips inside their opponents’ 20-yard line for a touchdown. Obviously, this is an offense still trying to find its identity without the services of injured playmaker, Christian McCaffrey.
To his credit, Carolina’s “next man up” running back, Davis, recorded a pretty good afternoon’s work in accounting for 91 yards of total offense (46 rushing on 13 carries, 45 yards receiving after catching 8 of 9 targets), including his TD scamper in the second quarter after catching a pass coming out of the backfield.
If anything, a key to Carolina’s victory was the play of its defense, which capitalized on four turnovers (two forced fumbles and 3 fumbles recovered, 1 interception), augmented by two quarterback sacks, and seven passes defended. The highlight of the defensive effort was a 66-yard interception return by Carolina defensive back Donte Jackson. After picking off a Herbert pass intended for Allen at the Panthers 26-yard line, the third-year cornerback out of LSU weaved his way across the field and down the left sideline before being stopped just eight yards shy of a “Pick 6.”
After admitting to reporters later that he would have preferred for his offense to have converted those turnovers into touchdowns instead of field goals, Bridgewater smiled when pointing out, “…the defense, they created those turnovers, they created energy and we just fed off those guys.”
Confidence building and their 2020 season record improved to 1-2, Carolina returns home in Week 4 to host the Arizona Cardinals (2-1). After collecting a Week 1 win in San Francisco, 24-20, and a Week 2 defeat of Washington, 30-15, the Cardinals fell to the Detroit Lions in a Sunday nailbiter, 26-23. Second year starting QB Kyler Murray passed for 270 yards and two TDs against the Lions, but also added three interceptions to his season resume. Those turnovers helped the Lions end an 11-game losing streak.