Another Blown Lead

<P>After a series of games in which the Panthers played one good half and one bad, they spent a lot of time this week talking about playing an entire game. They're getting closer, but still don't have it. <P>Sunday, they let a 14-0 fourth quarter lead get away against, arguably, the worst team in the NFL, and ended up losing to Washington 17-14 in overtime.

The Panthers totally dominated the Redskins in this one, as they appeared well on their way to their first ever win over Washington in 6 meetings. But, as before in their 4 game losing skid leading into this one, they found a way to lose. This time it was quarterback Chris Weinke's doing, with a healthy dose of help from the offensive line.

On the day, Weinke threw four interceptions, a couple of them on ill-advised passes under heavy pressure. In fact, the Skins found the best way to rattle Weinke was to bring the heat. Two of the interceptions he threw were inside the Washington 10. First, in the second quarter, on a 3rd and goal from the 8, Weinke tried to throw a pass over the middle while he was going down, and hit Washington's Kenard Lang instead. At that point, Carolina already had a 7-0 lead thanks to some solid play by receiver Donald Hayes, and a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Wesley Walls.

One wonders, if a touchdown (or at least a field goal) would have put a Washington team already struggling offensively, out for the day.

Before the half, despite some poor clock management, the Panthers were in position to score with a 2nd and goal at the one...this time a Weinke pass was tipped...and pulled in by Dan Wilkinson. So, instead of going in at the half up 21-0 or (at worst) 13-0, the Panthers were clinging to a 7-0 lead.

Despite Weinke's troubles, the Panthers appeared to have the game in hand early in the fourth quarter, when Tshimanga Biakabutuka went in from 10 yards out for his first touchdown of the year. He also topped 100 yards for the first time...getting to 121 before leaving the game with a broken foot. The score was 14-0 and the Panthers defense was shutting down the Redskins.

Then, Weinke gave one away. Trying a little screen to fullback Chris Hetherington for the umpteenth time, the ball went off Hetherington and into the hands of LaVarr Arrington who returned it 67 yards to give the Redskins life.

Next time the Redskins touched the ball, Tony Banks found Rod Gardner wide open for an 85-yard touchdown to tie the score.

The Panthers got a temporary reprieve when kicker Brett Conway missed a 32-yard field goal attempt with 41 seconds left. But, the defensive collapse continued in the overtime, as Banks and Gardner connected again for a 47 yard gain to the 6 (on a play that was originally ruled a touchdown) to set up the winning points for Washington on a 23-yard field goal from Conway.

The loss was a devastating one for the Panthers on a number of counts starting with their 6th straight loss to Washington in 6 attempts (a winless Washington to boot); Biakabutuka is likely done for the year with a broken foot; linebacker Hannibal Navies broke his right arm and will miss at least several weeks; and guard Kevin Donnalley injured his right knee.

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