Final drive comes up short for Panthers again

Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is treated on the field after being injured during the second of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C.(AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

For the third straight week, Teddy Bridgewater had a chance to lead the Carolina Panthers on a fourth-quarter comeback drive, and for the third straight week, Bridgewater and the Panthers came up short.

Bridgewater threw an interception inside the Atlanta 20-yard line with less than a minute remaining to seal a 25-17 loss to the Falcons at Bank of America Stadium on Thursday night. It’s the second time in three weeks that an interception ended a last-ditch Panthers drive. Last week, Bridgewater took a sack that set up a 65-yard field goal attempt that fell short.

The loss dropped the Panthers to 3-5. They have now lost six of their last seven games against the Falcons. Their only win over that span was three weeks ago, when a Carolina victory in Atlanta spurred the Falcons to fire their coach. The Falcons have also won six out of seven games against the Panthers when Atlanta comes into the game with a record of .500 or worse.

Three thoughts

1. Teddy Bridgewater went down on a scary play in the third quarter. Attempting to scramble, Bridgewater was kicked in the knee by Dante Fowler Jr. As he fell to the ground, Charles Harris hit him with a helmet-to-helmet blow. Bridgewater was on the turf for several minutes and Harris was ejected. Former XFL quarterback P.J. Walker took over briefly at quarterback while Bridgewater was getting treated on the sideline. Medical staff said he didn’t have a concussion but he had suffered a “neck injury.” Bridgewater returned to the game, however.

2. The Panthers struggled to stay on the field, going just 2-for-10 on third down conversions.

“We just can’t live like that,” coach Matt Rhule said.

They attempted to go for it on fourth-and-short in the third quarter, only to have Mike Davis run into the back of his own lineman and fall for a loss. On the next series, the Panthers executed a fake punt, with linebacker Jeremy Chinn running for 28 yards on fourth-and-8. It was similar to a fake the Panthers attempted in week two against Tampa that was blown up for a loss.

3. While Christian McCaffrey was at practice this week, leading to speculation he might play for the first time in five weeks, the Panthers chose not to take him off injured reserve in time for the game. Instead, Davis led the team in rushing with 66 yards on 13 carries.

Number to Know

118 minutes 35 seconds — The amount of game time the Panthers defense went without forcing an opponent to punt. The Bears punted with 1:40 remaining two weeks ago. The Saints did not punt once on Sunday, and the Falcons didn’t punt until 3:05 remained in the game. During the punt drought, the Panthers allowed five touchdowns and six field goals.

They Said It

“I don’t think any of us played real well tonight. I’m not sure we were good enough to win this game.”

— Panthers coach Matt Rhule

Player of the Game

Curtis Samuel, Panthers wide receiver —  On a night when the offense struggled to move the ball, Samuel continued to do a little bit of everything. He rushed the ball three times for 23 yards and went 12 yards for the Panthers’ first touchdown of the night. He also caught four passes for 31 yards and scored on a 29-yard pass to give the Panthers an eight-point lead. It’s his third career game with a rushing and receiving touchdown. Only Jerry Rice (5) has more in the Super Bowl era.

Critical thinking

Bridgewater was only sacked three times in the game, but he was under pressure from the Falcons’ pass rush all night long. On the final interception, he was flushed from the pocket, and the Panthers picked up a holding penalty — declined by Atlanta — trying to keep defenders off of him.

“We just had a hard time blocking their front,” Rhule said. “Teddy was under duress. … Even in the four-man rush, there were too many times when he had to flush. You just can’t win when you can’t control the line of scrimmage.”