The Carolina Panthers and Cleveland Browns both showed why their records are the way they are on Sunday, but it was unfortunately the Panthers whose season showed most. The Panthers’ youth and experience both contributed in the loss, but overall it might have been their best game of the season.
The Browns ran Peyton Hillis and he dominated, go figure. Carolina was already sporting one of the league’s worst run defenses, so when Player of the Year candidate Peyton Hillis showed up in the backfield, it was no surprise he would dominate.
Hillis ran for 131 yards with three touchdowns and also had 63 yards receiving. He was a bruiser the whole game and accounted for the Browns 21 points in the first half. He had a clutch third down reception, was unstoppable on pitch plays and sweeps, and Sherrod Martin will have cleat marks on his him the rest of the season.
Another player that performed well for the Browns was Jake Delhomme. He was quite accurate in the first half and was automatic on quick passes. He finished with 245 yards passing.
The third aspect of the game that went in Cleveland’s favor was the penalties. The Panthers had eight penalties for 68 yards, but it seemed like every penalty gave the Browns a first down after being in a third down situation. There was the Charles Johnson phantom “roughing the passer” penalty; there was the pass interference that turned a long field goal into a touchdown; and who can forget how Everette Brown nailed the punter. The referees were definitely not on the Panthers' side for the majority of the game.
Sure the Browns ran the most feared running back in the league down our throats. Sure Delhomme made receiver Brian Robiskie look like he deserved to be in the NFL. Fortunately, the Panthers moved passed these and still had opportunities to take the lead and win.
Charles Godfrey had an interception in his hands, but he dropped it. Brandon LaFell was wide open and was declared in bounds, but he dropped the ball. The Panthers picked off Delhomme the first time and then went three and out. Jimmy Clausen decides to back-pedal to try and avoid sacks. The pass interference on third down that allowed the Browns to not have to kick a field goal. Rushing three on a third and long, which allowed Delhomme time to throw to Hillis for a first down. Clausen throwing an interception late in the fourth quarter that should have ended the game. All these did not help the cause.
Amongst the multitude of mistakes made by the Panthers, they stayed competitive. They gave up 21 unanswered points, but they were able to kick a pair of field goals before the half to cut it to 21-13. The defense stepped up and actually forced the Browns to punt by getting pressure on Delhomme. Then, there was the pick-six by Captain Munnerlyn to make it 21-20.
In the fourth quarter, the Panthers actually took the lead as a 31-yard run by Jonathan Stewart put them into field goal range and the score became 23-21 and looked like the Browns would lose just like the previous two weeks.
After the Browns kicked a field goal, which was made possible by the Panthers only rushing three on third and long, the Panthers had their chance to win. A big third down screen put the Panthers at midfield with about 1:40 left on the clock. Then, the youth of the Panthers reared its head as Clausen made his first turnover of the game on first down.
Everyone thought the game was over, but, once again, the Browns wanted to be generous hosts. The Panthers stopped the Browns and were given the ball after three plays with one minute left. Clausen showed hope for the future as he made a 32-yard pass to Mike Goodson on third down and connected with LaFell for 28 yards to put them at the Browns' 24 with five seconds left. All the Panthers needed was a 42-yard field goal by "Mr. Reliable" John Kasay. But there was no comeback this game, the kick went left and hit the post, sealing the Panthers' 10th loss of the season.
Best Game Yet
Even though the Panthers did not get the victory, I feel this was their best game of the season. The Panthers scored more than 20 points for only the second time all season. Goodson and Stewart ran all over the Browns as they rushed for about 150 yards. Also, Goodson showed his skills as a pass catcher and should be a great tool for the rest of the season. Then, there was Clausen who almost went the entire game without a turnover and he threw for 195 yards on 16 of 28 attempts.
The Panthers were competitive and didn’t give up after being down 21-7. They fought back and Clausen recovered from his interception by putting his team in position to win. I know this for a fact, even Browns fans know of Kasay and thought the Browns were done when he came on the field. Unfortunately, a rarity occurred and Kasay disappointed Panther Nation by missing it just to the left.
What Needs to Happen Now
The Panthers lost, but they played well and now they need to take the next step. The Panthers have their "Double Trouble" once again and they need to keep the running game going. Seattle, the next opponent, gave up over 250 yards rushing to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Clausen needs to keep up with not turning the ball over, but now he needs to show the arm. Dwayne Bowe destroyed the Seattle defense and it’s time Steve Smith be unleashed. Clausen should look to go deep and look for his main target as there is no one who can cover him.
The defense needs to do its job. Hillis is gone and now the league’s worst run team is up. It’s time the defense dominate the line of scrimmage. Also, they need to get after Matt Hasselbeck. He will throw interceptions and, because he has no run game to rely on, he will be passing. The Panthers need to bring pressure and lay off the penalties.
Lastly, it’s time the Panthers have a complete game. The offense needs to score and the defense needs to force Seattle into the fetal position. It’s time to prove that the future is bright in Carolina.