Much of the excitement for this Panthers season came with the addition of new starting quarterback, Baker Mayfield. Shortly after the trade for their new signal caller was announced, people began pointing to week one, against his former team, the Cleveland Browns, as one of the games to watch on the NFL’s opening Sunday. When the game finally arrived, however, the Browns defense was the story as they repeatedly frustrated Mayfield, batting down numerous passes throughout the game.
The Panthers would open the game with the ball first, combining for -1 yards on their first drive. By the time the first quarter would conclude, the Panthers would have 3 drives for 5 total yards. It would take until the second quarter for the offense to pick up a first down (without the aid of penalty) and the Panthers fans in attendance were quick to stand and applaud the feat. The Browns cobbled together two long drives in the first quarter, but would ultimately finish the stanza still tied at 0-0.
In the second quarter, Baker Mayfield would make his first costly mistake of the season, throwing his first interception. Shortly after, following a defensive pass interference penalty on the Panthers, the Browns were quickly able to slip running back Kareem Hunt out of the backfield for an easy pitch and catch touchdown. Hunt would cash in again, this time with a 24-yard scamper, that would put the Browns up 14-0 with just under five minutes remaining in the first half.
Things were feeling dire for Panther fans. The offense had amassed just 20 yards and the visitors had 14 points. Baker Mayfield would get the ball to CMC and DJ Moore and with two quick passes, the Panthers had doubled their offensive output. Then came a deep shot to Ian Thomas, who tugged 50 yards down to the Browns’ 2-yard line. After Tommy Tremble was down just short of the goalline, a CMC dive over the top capped the Panthers first scoring drive of the season, cutting the lead to 14-7.
At halftime, the Panthers found themselves down one score, despite converting only 1 of 6 Third Downs (16.7%). The defense conceded 6.6 yards/carry to Browns running Nick Chubb, who had 79 yards rushing after the first half, while Hunt cashed in the touchdowns. Meanwhile, Christian McCaffrey had only three carries for nine yards and two receptions for a total of two yards.
The third quarter opened with the Browns driving down for a field goal, to extend their lead to ten. On the Panthers first drive of the second half, one of the matchups everyone had been discussing came to the forefront; Myles Garrett v. Panthers rookie LT, Ikem Ikwonu. On back to back plays, Myles Garrett took the young blind side protector to school. Scoring a sack on the first, and a strip sack on the second (Mayfield was able to recover the fumble). From there, the defenses would trade stops and the Browns would enter the 4th quarter with a 20-7 lead.
As the third quarter was winding down, Baker Mayfield and center Pat Elflein again had issues with the snap, but on this occasion, the ball bounced directly to CMC, who took off with the rock and picked up an unexpected 32 yards. Mayfield would connect with Shi Smith and CMC would continue to be special, all the way into the red zone, before Baker Mayfield took matters into his own hands and ran in for a touchdown from seven yards out. Just minutes into the fourth quarter, it was again a one score game, with Cleveland leading 20-14.
The Browns would do their best to milk the clock as much as possible on their next drive, before settling for a field goal to extend their lead, 23-14. Just a play later, however, Baker Mayfield would connect tih Robbie Anderson on a 75-yard strike, the longest play of the season, to close the gap to 23-21.
The Browns were again focused on using as much clock as possible, but with just over two minutes left, the Panthers defense held and the offense would get their chance. Baker Mayfield would again connect with DJ Moore and McCaffrey to move the ball down into the red zone, before slowing down to burn the Browns timeouts. After three rushes, kicker Eddie Piniero would knock through a 34-yard field goal to give the Panthers their first lead, 24-23.
With just over a minute on the clock and their backup quarterback in the game, the Browns looked to be in dire straits, but thanks to a questionable roughing the passer call and picking up a flag on a fake spike, they were able to find their way into position for a 58-yard game winning field goal from rookie Cade York and that’s what they got. Right down the middle.
The Panthers weren’t the better team for the majority of the afternoon, but they competed and had the lead in the closing seconds. The team scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, the first time they’ve done that since December of 2020. With as rough a first half as the time had, most couldn’t envision this one coming down to the wire.
Now, the Cleveland game is behind Baker, Coach McAdoo has had his full offense assembled for an afternoon, and the team’s focus can turn to the Giants. The Panthers will head north to take on the G-Men, Sunday at 1:00 PM.
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