0-5. That’s the Panthers game-winning drive record.
Week 1 vs. the Raiders: Down four points with 4:03 remaining in the 4th quarter, the Panthers started what they hoped would be a game-winning drive from their own 30 yard line. Christian McCaffrey rushed for 15 yards on the first play, but the Panthers were unable to gain another first down after fullback Alex Armah was stuffed on 4th and 1 from the Las Vegas 46. Carolina’s defense would hold, but the eight seconds left on the clock weren’t enough. Game over.
Week 6 vs. the Bears: With 1:32 remaining, down seven points, the offense took the field looking to tie (or win) the game. On the first play of the series, Teddy Bridgewater is intercepted on a short pass up the middle intended for DJ Moore. Game over.
Week 7 vs. the Saints: Down three points with 7:55 left in the 4th quarter, the Panthers started their offensive drive at their own 32 yard line. Bridgewater and company drove the ball all the way to the New Orleans’ 38 before Teddy was sacked on 3rd and 11, resulting in an eight yard loss. Joey Slye’s game-tying 65-yard field goal attempt falls just short. Game over.
Week 8 vs. the Falcons: Down eight points with 2:58 remaining, Carolina takes over on offense. The Panthers advance to the Atlanta 30, before Bridgewater is intercepted on 3rd and 6 on a deep pass intended for DJ Moore. Game over.
Week 9 vs. the Chiefs: Down two points with 1:26 remaining, the Panthers start the drive at their own nine yard line. Bridgewater completes three short passes and a 23-yard pass to Curtis Samuel – advancing to the Kansas City 49 before the drive stalls. With time expiring Joey Slye’s 67-yard field goal attempt sails wide right. Game over.
Five tries. Zero points.
I’ll preface this by saying Matt Rhule and the Panthers have exceeded expectations. As outlined above, they’re five game-winning drives away from 8-1. But there are no moral victories or participation trophies in the NFL. No awards for coming close to winning.
So, who’s to blame for Carolina’s inability to seal the deal? How do they fix it? Coach Rhule says “work” and Teddy Bridgewater says “execution.”
“All I know in my life is, when something’s not working quite good enough you keep working at it,” Rhule said when I asked him about Carolina’s inability to win close games. “That’s what separates the good from the great teams in the NFL – is their ability to win at the end of the game…We have to improve and the only way to improve is to work.”
“Honestly, it’s how well we’re executing the system,” Bridgewater said. “I think we’re doing a good job of executing the system, but as we continue to grow as an organization we’ll become a better situational football team. That’s the one area where if we just take that one leap we can really find ourselves winning certain games.”
Working and execution are important, but winning is often instinctual. That drive. That killer mentality. The belief that no matter how much you’re down, you’re still not out…AND you’re going to win. It’s what makes athletes like Jordan, Kobe, LeBron and Brady legends. It’s what made Cam Newton and the 2015 Panthers team so special. That ability to step on the field, down 3 points, with the ball in your hand and win the game. Yes, coaching is important and execution is key, but the person with the ball in his hand is the one with…or without THE JUICE. We’re still waiting to see if Teddy has any.