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NFL: OCT 02 Cardinals at Panthers

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The Carolina Panthers fell once more on Sunday, again at home. On a day meant to honor Sam Mills, the defense lived up to the billing, while the offense continued to sputter. Facing off against a 1-2 Arizona Cardinals team, the Panthers defense was the first to strike.

Two weeks after mistiming his jump and failing to secure a big interception, Frankie Luvu was again in the right spot and this time he cashed in. With a 33-yard interception return for a touchdown, the first score of the game, giving the Panthers a 7-0 early in the second quarter. The Cardinals would respond with a field goal to make it 7-3, with a just over three minutes remaining in the half. The Panthers would move the ball successfully before a Baker Mayfield interception, the second turnover of the half for the home team. The defense would again hold, forcing another Arizona punt, giving the ball back to the Panthers with less than :30 remaining before intermission. The offense was able to squeeze five plays into the last 21 seconds and moved into position for kicker Eddie Pinero to attempt a career long 54-yard field goal, which he promptly made to give the Panthers a 10-3 halftime lead.

In the first half, both teams struggled with 3rd down conversions. The Cardinals finished the opening stanzas just 2 of 9 (22.2%) on third down, while the Panthers were 1 of 5 (20%). Both quarterbacks had 90 yards passing and both leading rushers averaged less than 4 yards per carry on 6 carries each (both had 22 yards for 3.7 yard averages). Not only did Frankie Luvu had the interception, but he along with Brian Burns combined for 3 tackles for loss in the first two quarters.

By midway through the third quarter, the Cardinals tied the game up at 10 with a Kyler Murray to Zach Ertz touchdown pass. The Panthers would allow the next four scores, as once again Baker Mayfield’s deflected passes were an issue. The Cardinals defense had just one pass defensed in the first half, but would finish the game with 8 total passes defensed, the biggest of the day was a leaping deflection by future Hall of Famer, JJ Watt, who deflected the ball up into the waiting arms of a linebacker, setting up the Cardinals with a short field. Kyler Murray and the offense promptly punched in the touchdown and suddenly the Panthers were down two scores in the 4th quarter. Another Panthers drive would end on downs and the Cardinals would again cash in, this time with a 23-yard pass from Kyler Murray to Hollywood Brown, to give the visitors a 26-10 lead, after their two-point conversion failed (only attempted due to an injury to their kicker).

With just under five minutes to go, Baker Mayfield would find Christian McCaffrey in the middle of the end zone and the start running back made a leaping grab over defenders to secure the score, making the score 26-16. McCaffrey, who’s been the Panthers best offensive weapon so far this season, had only two second half carries and finished the game with 8 rushes for 27 yards and 9 receptions for 81 yards and a TD. Baker’s final line on the day 22-36 passing for 197 yards and 2 interceptions.

The Panthers fall to 1-3 in their first four games and the quest for an offensive identity drags out for at least one more week. The offense was successful on their only red zone trip of the day, but they didn’t crack into the red zone until Arizona, who had not led a single play in regulation this season, already had a two score lead in the 4th quarter. Time of possession was again a culprit as well, with the Panthers only holding onto the ball for 21:25, the third time in four games that the offense has had less than 24 minutes of possession time.

Matt Rhule’s squad will try once again to get things turned in the right direction this Sunday, yet another home game, as they prepare to face the San Francisco 49ers at 4:05. For more information and analysis about this game be sure to tune in to Sports Radio 92.7 WFNZ.