Edwards: Missed opportunities doom Panthers

Matt Edwards ponders what went wrong against the Bengals in the Panthers' week 7 loss.

Today's game against the Bengals marks the second time this season where the Panthers have shot themselves in the foot.

The first time was against the Minnesota Vikings. The defense was having a dominant day and a special teams blunder cost Carolina the win. Today's game was another missed opportunity to get an important win. With the New Orleans Saints off to a surprising 5-1 start and the Falcons getting things back together and beating the Steelers, the Panthers could ill afford to stumble.

Missed opportunities, (a few dropped interceptions and a game sealing late fourth quarter interception by Delhomme) was the story of the day.

The Panthers secondary dropped three interceptions. The first was by Chris Gamble in the first quarter. If that interception had been hauled in, it would've given the Panthers the ball in field goal range. The Bengals ended up punting on that series, so the only cost of that drop was in the field position battle. The other two dropped interception would prove far more costly. The second dropped interception was by Lucas in the red zone, and it was gift wrapped.

Palmer was going for the touchdown and Lucas made a great break on the ball, but he just couldn't haul it in. That drive ended in a Bengals touchdown.

The third dropped interception was by rookie Richard Marshall, but it would have been a tough catch had he made the play. Palmer overthrew his receiver and the ball bounced off of Marshall's shoulder pads. The result in that particular drive was a Bengals touchdown.

The game was sealed late in the fourth quarter when Delhomme tried to force a ball to Keyshawn Johnson late in the fourth quarter, which was a horrible decision in retrospect. The defensive back had perfect coverage, and there was no way that throw was going to be completed.

At that point in the game, the Panthers were in chip-shot field goal range, and three points would have tied the game.

Delhomme has a tendency to force passes, but to his credit, this marks his first career interception when inside the ten yard line. It's a numbers game; the law of averages dictates that it was bound to happen at sometime, but man, talking about bad timing.

The Bengals did a fantastic job of picking up the stunts and delays that the Panthers have used very effectively to free up Julius Peppers in previous games. Carson Palmer was able to stand in the pocket comfortably on nearly every passing opportunity. Luckily, he didn't have his finest outing, missing open receivers on severaloccasions and throwing what should have been at least three interceptions. Despite not pressuring Palmer, the defense was dominant in the first quarter, but adjustments by the Bengals out-paced Trgovac's defensive plan.

In the second half, the Bengals offense enjoyed success at almost everything they attempted. As puzzling as the lack of defensive adjustments and the lack of pressure on Palmer are, if interception opportunities were taken advantage of today, we would be talking about a dominating defensive performance by the Panthers.

Offensively, Steve Smith started slow, dropping the first two balls thrown in his direction, but he settled in nicely and ended up with a productive day. Keyshawn Johnson filled his possession role nicely. Carter and Colbert were nearly invisible, with Colbert's only memorable play being a potential touchdown pass that he lost in the air. Fullback Brad Hoover had a couple of catches as acheck down receiver that helped move the chains, and the normally ignored Kris Mangum had the offensive highlight of the day on a lunging dive into theend zone after a short reception.

The running game was effective when it was used. After Offensive Coordinator Dan Henning figured out that the Bengals weren't going to let them run up the middle, Foster was effective running off-tackles, misdirections, draws and catching screens.

Today is a tough loss to swallow as a Panther fan, just like the Vikings loss. The Panthers could very, very easily be 6-1 right now if it weren't for a special teams blunder against Minnesota and missed opportunities against Cincinnati. The Panthers seem to lack a killerinstinct: an ability to bury an opponent and put them away. They allow teams to linger within striking distance, seemingly toying with them. In both of the aforementioned tough losses, the Panthers were dominant early on and then allowed their opponent to play themselves back into the game due to blunders by the Panthers or the Panthers not capitalizing on mistakes by their opponent.

If the Panthers are going to make the playoffs this season they have to find a way to put together full games and not allow opponents to play themselves back into games.

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