The Carolina Panthers failed to hold serve on Thursday night in a temperature-taking game between two 4-1 teams, falling to the surging Philadelphia Eagles, 28-23.
It was a disappointing setback in many ways for the Panthers, who were the home team during a short week and had the advantage of Pete Morelli and crew showing up color blind to Carolina Blue.
The disparity in officiating was striking, as the Eagles were caught 10 times for 126 yards while the Panthers were flagged just once for an inconsequential one yard, although that did enable Doug Pederson to eschew an extra-point attempt for a successful two-point conversion when LeGarrette Blount bulldozed it in from an offset shotgun look that gave Philadelphia an 18-10 advantage.
Strictly by the numbers, however, it was the first time in NFL history that one team was penalized for 120 yards-or-more while the other had fewer than 10.
So how do you lose a game like that?
It comes down to being one-dimensional and putting too much on the broad shoulders of Cam Newton, who may play Superman on television at times, but just like George Reeves and Christopher Reeve (or for you millennials, perhaps Brandon Routh may be the better reference) before him, Cam is not really the Man of Steel.
The Eagles’ imposing front, which got a boost from the return of Pro Bowl game-wrecker Fletcher Cox after a two-game respite with a calf injury, held the Panthers’ running back unit to a one rushing yard on 13 carries, the same paltry total Philadelphia got via penalty and a mind-numbing three inches per carry.
That reality turned the Panthers’ rallying cry from “Keep Pounding” to “Keep it in Cam’s hands.”
Newton had to sling it 52 times and run it 11 more times. He was so spent late that Carolina offensive coordinator David Shula eschewed designed runs for Newton on 3rd- and 4th-and-1 late in the game with the Panthers’ driving for the potential game-winning touchdown and less than 90 seconds to go.
Maybe the biggest issue was the absence of starting center Ryan Kalil, leaving limited second-year player Tyler Larsen trying to deal with Cox, Tim Jernigan and Beau Allen on the interior, veteran players who all dominated at times.
With the running game gone and Philadelphia playing from the lead for most of the second half, the Eagles were able to tee off on the pass rush. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Newton had faced pressure on an average of 31.1 percent of his dropbacks coming into the contest, and that number spiked to 43.3 percent against Jim Schwartz’s defense.
The result was three interceptions, two deep in Carolina territory that turned into touchdowns and another backbreaking one in the fourth quarter.
“A team that’s heavily favored to run the football – that’s who we are,” Newton said after the game. “That’s Panthers football.”
Not on Thursday night, and it cost Carolina a game in which everything was in its favor.
“We have a lot of things to look at,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera admitted. “We really do.”
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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