CHARLOTTE – Cam Newton’s return ended with the thud of him hitting the Bank of America Stadium turf on a sack, as the Washington Football Team prevailed over the Carolina Panthers, 27-21, on Sunday.
Newton had an opportunity to author a game-winning drive in the closing minutes, but Carolina’s inability to play complementary football put them in that scenario.
Head Coach Matt Rhule lamented missed opportunities created by converting just two of the team’s nine third down conversions & the Panthers’ seven penalties for 65 yards.
“It was really a tale of penalties and our 3rd down conversions not really being what it needs to be,” Rhule said. “Obviously, a disappointing loss for us versus a quality team.”
Carolina’s defense fell to 0-5 when they allow an offense to gain more than 100 yards, as Washington gashed them for 190 yards on 40 attempts. Washington QB Taylor Heinicke, facing his former team, did just enough through the air with three touchdown passes and a 141.5 QB Rating.
“One thing about Taylor Heinicke, man, is you can always count on him to be a fighter. Be a competitor. And just be a guy who plays to win,” Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson said. “It don’t matter if he has to hand it off 100 times or throw it 100 times. He is just a guy who plays to win it. He really competed today and it was nice. I was very impressed.”
Newton accounted for all three Panthers touchdowns, including an opening-drive touchdown pass to DJ Moore from 12 yards out. The return engagment saw Newton complete his first five passes, en route to a 21-for-27 day through the air with 189 yards and two touchdown. He also scored once on a 24-yard touchdown run, after which he raced to midfield to do his trademark “Superman” routine.
The Panthers trailed, 24-21, with the ball when Rhule decided to leave his offense on the field on 4th & 3 from the Carolina 32. Newton found Christian McCaffrey out of the backfield, but McCaffrey cut the route too shallow, failing to reach the line to gain.
“Analytically, you should punt that ball. You still have three timeouts. Started to go punt the ball and then just because Cam [Newton] doesn’t truly know the two-minute as well as maybe you would like,” Rhule said. “I said hey, I have Christian McCaffrey. They haven’t stopped him all day. Let’s take a shot at it. I thought they would make the play. We made it. We just came up half of a yard short.”
Newton had one more shot to be the hero following a Washington field goal, but took a sack on the team’s last offensive play near midfield.
“It was just lack thereof of execution. I believe DJ [Moore] won, so it’s my job to deliver the football, I hesitated and that’s all it takes for a team like that to kind of swarm you,” Newton said. “You know we just have to get better, we have to do better.”
When asked to define the way he played on Sunday, Newton declined to elaborate, saying, “We didn’t win.”
Washington Head Coach Ron Rivera downplayed any revenge motive following the win against his former team.
“I know it would have been disappointing if it would have gone the other way, but it was fun,” Rivera said. “We are very fortunate to come outon top because they played a good football game and we played a good football game too and came out on top.”
Carolina (5-6) lost for the fourth time in a row at home, and has not won at Bank of America Stadium since a Week Two triumph against the New Orleans Saints. The Panthers, who have won two straight away from home, hit the road next week playing at Miami.