Win the turnover battle and you usually win the game. Win the turnover battle AND score a defensive touchdown – your chances of victory increase even more. Score TWO defensive touchdowns and you’re nearly guaranteed a win – unless you’re Carolina.
The Panthers won the turnover battle, 3-1, against the Vikings. Jeremy Chinn scored two defensive touchdowns in ten seconds and Carolina still found a way to lose to Minnesota 28-27. Naturally fans would want to place the blame on someone. Is it Teddy Bridgewater who missed a wide open DJ Moore on third and goal from the three yard line with 1:56 remaining – that would’ve put the Panthers up two scores? Or is it kicker Joey Slye who missed a game-winning 54-yard field goal with six seconds remaining in the 4th?
While these may be good candidates for some, the blame for this one lies at the feet of the Panthers coaching staff.
After putting pressure on Kirk Cousins and containing Dalvin Cook, the league’s second-leading rusher for three quarters, Phil Snow’s group started playing soft, prevent defense – rushing only three lineman and allowing Cousins to methodically lead one field-goal and two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter.
Joe Brady’s offense was sub-par most of the game – which is usually the case then you are out-scored by the defense. Bridgewater missed two go-ahead touchdown throws- both to DJ Moore. Conservative play-calling on the final two drives was brutal and Teddy seemed rushed during the offense’s last possession, as communication between the sideline was delayed.
For a staff that has impressed most of the season, this was perfect example of coaching mediocrity – leading to an “L” the Panthers should not have taken. Matt Rhule agreed.
“As a coaching staff we didn’t get the job done today. Anytime you have two defensive touchdowns and you don’t win, it’s on you. Anytime you hold them to 55 yards, it’s on us as a staff. To not be able to put the game away with the ball at the ten yard line with two minutes left, it’s unacceptable by us as a staff. To not be able to stop them and not be able to make the field goal at the end to win the game after having three opportunities to close it out – we did not do it. We’re a good football team. We have not closed these type of games out. I always try to look and see where the fault lies and I put it squarely on us as a staff. Which starts with me.”
The accountability by Rhule, who made a point of answering every reporter’s question after the loss, is admirable. The truth is, the Panthers have had trouble winning close games all season – many of which weren’t the fault of the coaching staff. The hope is that Rhule and company, like they preach to their players, learn from this experience and continue to keep their foot on the gas when leading contests. Scared money don’t make money and it doesn’t win football games.