With 41 seconds to go, the Carolina Panthers reached the one yard line.
Trailing the 2-9 Redskins that has already fired its coach, 29-21, Carolina needed a touchdown and two-point conversion to send the game to overtime and cap a remarkable comeback. The Panthers had already had one scoring drive in the final four minutes, marching 75 yards in 12 plays—11 of them passes—and then recovered an onside kick.
The Panthers then threw five straight passes, gaining 51 yards to get into the shadow of the goalpost.
It was time to run the ball.
Christian McCaffrey, who carried the ball eight times in the first quarter and four times since, got the ball on back-to-back plays, with seconds ticking off the clock. He was stuffed for a loss both times, and the Panthers used up their remaining time outs.
Kyle Allen then threw incomplete on third down, and Carolina faced one fourth-down play with the season on the line.
Allen dropped back and felt pressure. He rolled one way to escape it, then the other, falling farther and farther back. In the end, the Redskins reached him, sacking him and recovering a fumble at the 31 yard line.
Four plays with the game on the line, none of them positive, and a cumulative 30-yard loss: The drive may end up symbolizing the end of an era in Carolina.
The loss to Washington seemingly makes it a done deal that Panthers owner David Tepper will move on from the current administration at season’s end, if not sooner.
Predictably, coach Ron Rivera brushed off questions about his status, saying, “No, I’m not worried about my future. I’m worried about this football team’s future and we have a game coming up on Sunday.”
The Panthers seemed ready to put the game out of reach early, running out to two early touchdowns on the first two drives to take a 14-0 lead 10 minutes into the game. The offense departed as quickly as it arrived, however. After gaining 130 yards on the first 14 plays, the Panthers managed just 148 yards on the remaining 59.
Kyle Allen, who completed all six of his passes for 86 yards and two scores on those drives, went 21 of 40 the rest of the way for 192 yards and an interception. He was also sacked seven times.
The Panthers defense, meanwhile, collapsed against the run. Facing the sixth-worst rushing offense in the league, Carolina gave up 248 yards at an 8.3 per-carry average and three rushing touchdowns.
After Tepper said he wouldn’t accept mediocrity and was rumored to be considering cleaning house after the season, Rivera and the Panthers delivered several tiers below mediocrity laying an egg worthy of regime change.
“It’s a game of inches,” Rivera said of the goal-line debacle that ended it. “The inches weren’t on our side this time.”