CHARLOTTE — The Panthers’ defense forced four takeaways and held off a last-minute push en route to a 21-16 victory over the Chargers on Sunday.
Carolina is now in the win column with a 1-2 record, snapping a 10-game losing streak that dated back to Nov. 3, 2019. The Panthers will next host the Cardinals at Bank of America Stadium in Week 4.
Here are a few rapid reactions from Matt Rhule’s first victory as Carolina’s head coach.
TAKEAWAYS LEAD TO POINTS
The Panthers’ defense was the story of the game, flying around and forcing rookie quarterback Justin Herbert into bad decisions.
Defensive end Brian Burns got the turnover party started by strip-sacking Herbert on the Chargers’ second possession. Linebacker Tahir Whitehead recovered the loose ball at the Los Angeles’ 48, giving the Panthers excellent field position.
After a Chargers touchdown, linebacker Shaq Thompson forced a fumble on rookie running back Joshua Kelley’s 16-yard run, recovering it himself at the Carolina 43-yard line.
Then at the end of the first half, cornerback Donte Jackson stepped in front of wide receiver Keenan Allen for his second interception in two weeks.
The Panthers scored 12 points off the takeaways with two field goals and a touchdown. Kicker Joey Slye’s point after attempt was blocked after the touchdown.
After finishing negative-2 in the turnover margin last week, the Panthers also played clean offensively to finish plus-4 on Sunday.
PRESSURE GETS HOME
After going the first two weeks without a sack, the Panthers didn’t waste time getting on the board in L.A.
Following defensive tackle Derrick Brown’s run stuff to bring up third-and-10 on the Chargers’ opening possession, defensive end Marquis Haynes came through the middle to pick up Carolina’s first sack of the season.
Though Burns was credited with just one sack, he consistently brought pressure to rush Herbert’s throws. Burns and safety Juston Burris also teamed up to force a fumble on a pitch play to wide receiver Mike Williams in the third quarter. Though Williams got the ball back, the play was an 18-yard loss.
EARLY RED ZONE WOES
While the Panthers won, Carolina’s offense entered the red zone on three of its first four possessions but could not score a touchdown on any one of them.
On third down plays inside the 20, a Teddy Bridgewater scramble came up short, Bridgewater threw an incomplete pass, and Mike Davis got tackled for a loss.
Slye nailed field goals of 29, 24, and 30 yards to give the Panthers points on each possession, but it wasn’t an ideal start.
On their fifth possession, the Panthers failed on third down for a fourth consecutive time in the red zone, but the Chargers committed an illegal formation foul by lining up over the center on Slye’s 36-yard field goal attempt. The ensuing 5-yard penalty gave the Panthers a first down, and they immediately capitalized with Davis’ 13-yard touchdown reception.
THE SWOLE KICKER
Slye was the Panthers’ MVP, booting through five field goals.
The second-year kicker tied a franchise record with four made field goals in a half, making his final attempt from 22 yards out as time expired in the second quarter. Slye then extended Carolina’s lead to 21-10 in the fourth quarter, hitting a 31-yarder for his fifth field goal.
The five makes were the most by a Panthers’ kicker since Justin Medlock hit that many in a loss to the Bears in October 2012. John Kasay still holds the franchise record with six makes against the Saints in 2004.
But Slye backed up his reputation as the “swole” kicker by picking up a special teams stop on his first kickoff of the game. He was credited for a tackle on returner Joe Reed, halting him at the Chargers’ 26-yard line. If not for Slye’s stick, Reed likely would’ve had a much bigger return.
ANOTHER BIG SPECIAL TEAMS PLAY
Long snapper J.J. Jansen made a huge play by downing Joseph Charlton’s final punt on the 1-yard line. Though Jansen threw the ball backward and the play was initially ruled a touchback, it was changed upon review. Jansen was ruled to have established possession with two feet down, and the 19-yard difference meant Herbert and the Chargers needed 99 yards with no timeouts to win the game.
THIRD DOWNS AN ISSUE FOR BOTH SIDES
Carolina’s defense struggled on third downs again, allowing Los Angeles to convert 10 of its 14 attempts.
The Panthers’ offense had the opposite problem, going 3-of-12 on third down.
Despite the win, Carolina has to improve those numbers for both units going forward.
19 / 74
BRANDON TODD/BRANDON TODD
20 / 74
BRANDON TODD/BRANDON TODD