With last Sunday’s late game come from ahead to lose defeat, the Carolina Panthers have now managed to lose by just about the same amount, in just about the same fashion, to the same team, and in the same place – their own home stadium – three years running.
In early October, 2012, the Seattle Seahawks traveled to Carolina, to face the Panthers under second year Quarterback Cam Newton. A Cam Newton who, in 2011, until Russell Wilson of the Seahawks, Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts, and Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins all came along and collectively blew the bar for rookie quarterback performances out of the water in 2012, had perhaps the best season performance wise for a rookie quarterback in the history of the NFL.
The Seahawks were in their 5th game under said rookie quarterback Wilson, and on their way to becoming a very good football team. They would close out the 2012 season with a 58-0 win over the Arizona Cardinals, a 50-17 win over the Buffalo Bills playing a “home” away game in Toronto, a 42-13 win over the San Francisco 49ers (who made it to the Super Bowl several weeks later), and a regular season ending 20-13 win over the St. Louis Rams in a game that didn’t matter in terms of their playoff seeding. (They went on to defeat the Redskins 24-14 in Washington in the wild card round of the playoffs before losing to the Atlanta Falcons 30-28, despite mounting a wild comeback from a 20 point deficit in the 4th quarter only to lose at the end on a 49 yard field goal.)
The Panthers were decent, but knew how to lose close football games. They stayed in the middle of the pack in 2012, before becoming a very solid team last season.
In this October, 2012 game, the played the Seahawks close, holding to a 10-6 lead in the second half. Then, starting from his 12 yard line with 6:05 left in the 3rd quarter, Wilson calmly drove the Seahawks 88 yards to a touchdown and a 13-10 lead, leaving only the 4th quarter, and 35 seconds of the third, left in the game.
The Seahawks added a field goal, and later took a Safety to protect the football, and defeated the Panthers 16-12 in a come from behind win.
Nearly a year later – with the Seahawks now essentially an early season Super Bowl favorite given they way the closed out the 2012 season and clamored for more, and the Panthers a good team but still considered middle of the Pack, they once again had the pleasure of hosting the team from Seattle.
And once again they lost by a small margin, this time 5 instead of 4, to the Seahawks, t home. This time by a score of 12-7, and once again, in a come from behind win by the Seahawks.
Nearing the 4th quarter, the Panthers led 7-3. But with 2:26 left in the 3rd quarter, the Seahawks Steven Hauschka connected on a 40 yard field goal to close the gap to a 1 point Panthers lead.
Then early in the 4th, Wilson hit rookie free agent Jermaine Kearse for a 43 yard touchdown and, after a failed two point conversion try, his tean led 12-7; and, as in the 2012 game, once the shoe was on the other foot, and the Panthers trailed late, they never relinquished the lead.
Fast forward again, a little more than a year to this very afternoon, Sunday, October 26. And by a quirk in scheduling – even though they play in different divisions – the Seahawks, sliding (after two successive losses to the Dallas Cowbows, and St. Louis Rams in weeks 6 and 7), once again traveled to Carolina. Where Carolina quarterback Cam Newton had now won 9 of his last 10 starts.
This blogs week 8 picks against the spread (taking the Panthers +6) suggested the following about this game:
Seattle should win, perhaps more likely in a close game than not.
But surely the third time would be the charm; or, at least not follow the same essentially tight script of a late Panther lead, followed by a Seahawks comeback for a narrow victory near the end of the game once again in the Panthers home stadium.
Yet it did. As once again, the Panthers led in the second half of the game. Though this time, they didn’t lose by a score of 16-12 on a Seattle comeback in Carolina as in 2012, nor a score of 12-7 on a Seattle comeback in Carolina as in 2013, but by a score of 13-9, on a Seattle comeback in Carolina.
The Panthers, although they had gotten a few breaks, as well as failed to fully capitalize on a few opportunities, led early. The Seahawks then tied in up in the second half. Then the Panthers re took the lead late in the game, 9-6, on their 3rd field goal of the contest.
Then Wilson, starting from this own 20 year line, with 4:37 remaining in the game, began his march. If the Panthers stopped the Seahawks, they would win the game, upset the defending Super Bowl champions, and win a key NFC matchup that the Panthers needed to stay in reasonable contention.
8 plays, and 67 yards later (on the 9th and final play of the drive), Wilson hit Wilson (Russell, to 2nd year Tight End Luke) for the go ahead – and stay ahead – touchdown, with 47 seconds remaining in the game. And the Panthers lost again.
One key play in the game – that might have amounted to exactly a four point differential (or at least pinned the Seahawks backed near their goal line if it went the other way) – came on a 3rd and goal from the Seahawks 1 yard line very early in the 2nd quarter, with the Panthers leading 3-0.
Repeated field goals are going to lose teams games more often than they win. And doubling the score against an opponent, yet still leading by less than one full score (a touchdown) – while an improvement – isn’t really much of one from reasonably close in to the end zone considering the opportunity cost of foregoing a touchdown try from close in.
So the key thing here is to take two shots at the end zone, and maximize the chances of getting 7 points and making it a legitimate two score (10 point) game, with some residual value in the event of a stop by leaving the opponent near their own goal line, rather than out at the 20 after a kickoff – which both gains the defense some extra yardage, and yields a small window for forcing a shortened punt snap and thus a hurried and often shorter punt and ensuing strong field position for the offense.
The Panthers called a run play, and lost 7 yards. It happens, but it was a bad place for it to happen from. And on 4th and goal from the 8, they reasonably kicked a field goal to add very moderately to their 3 point lead.
Perhaps later in games, the Panthers might also focus more on playing to win, not just on “holding onto” leads (as has been a long standing problem for the team, albeit one that was improved for a time last season before seemingly regressing back a little to older style habits of playing not to lose) – and jack up the intensity, if anything (particularly when playing the Seahawks), and not just hold it steady.
Then again, Seattle is, and has been a pretty clutch team. Particularly when they play the Panthers, on the Panthers own home turf. Apparently.