Charlotte, NC - Except for the ending, this game played out almost exactly as John Fox wanted.
The Panthers did what they've done all year: They used a stifling defense to limit the other team's offense, and they used ball control offense to shorten the game. They kept it close hoping to win the game in the fourth quarter. It nearly worked.
Teams going against Bret Favre have to be wary at all times. Love him or hate him, he can score from practically anywhere on the field. To shut him down is almost impossible, but limiting him is realistic. The Panthers' defense looked like it wasn't up to the task at first. After the Panthers went three and out, the Packers marched 73 yards down the field, but fall short of the end zone. The Panthers D managed to hold Green Bay to a field goal. This initial stop kept the Panthers in the game. Our offense is simply not built to come from behind, especially from more than a touchdown behind.
After this, the Panthers and Packers traded punts before Carolina got it going. The Panthers began their drive with dink and dunk passes combined with runs that went nowhere. Then came the Panthers' offensive play of the day. Steve Smith turned a pass into a 61-yard romp before being pushed out of bounds at the Green Bay 9-yard line. Tack on half the distance to the goal for a facemask penalty, and things look sweet. It turned out things were sweet when Lamar Smith plows ahead for a 3-yard touchdown on the next play. The Panthers are up, 7-3 in the first quarter.
The Panthers and Packers traded two series of punts before the Packers got it together. Their scoring drive was highlighted by a bogus pass interference call on Mark Fields (In my opinion) and the Bubba Franks touchdown pass. Even though I knew the pass from Favre to Franks was a lateral, I hoped against hope that the officials would look at the replay and somehow uphold the idea of two forward passes. Visiting teams never get those calls at Lambeau, so the Packers go on top, 10-7.
The Panthers got the ball back with 1:36 left and were on the move. I say were because once the Panthers got in the red zone, Rodney Peete was sacked at the Green Bay 24. Did I mention he fumbled as well? Well, he did, killing a chance to at least tie the score before the half. The Packers are unable to get past mid-field and we go into halftime down 10-7.
The Packers get the ball first in he second half, but a crushing effort from the Carolina defense forces the green and gold to punt twice. Carolina also has to punt twice, so it's a bit of a wash. But then it happened.
On the Packers' third drive of the half, Dan Morgan intercepts Favre in Green Bay territory. We're in business! The Panthers manage to drive down to the Green Bay 15 before disaster strikes. Rodney Peete is sacked again. And you guessed it, loyal readers, he fumbles again. Two drives in the red zone killed by turnover.
Fortunately, the Panther defense shows what it's made of and forces a three and out after Kris Jenkins sacks Favre and 3rd and 4. I'm loving this defense more and more every time I see it.
Perhaps inspired by the effort of the defense, the Panthers offense rises to the occasion and takes advantage of excellent field position. On a drive that featured a 31 yard pass to the under-appreciated Brad Hoover (HOOOOOOVER!), we get another Lamar Smith touchdown to put the Panthers on top, 14-10.
Take a look at where the Panthers are at this point. Up 14-10 with 13 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. They're fielding a defense that has frustrated Favre all afternoon. We could win this thing! Read on.
True to form, the Panthers force a Packer punt, and things are coming up roses. The Panthers get the ball back with 11:20 left on their own 26 and the plan is laid out in front of your eyes: March down the field slowly, eat up time, out-tough the other team, and score again. Things couldn't be sweeter! But looks can be deceiving.
On third and six of this drive, Dee Brown gained nine yards, but fumbled. John Fox challenged the call, but it was clearly a fumble. Things went downhill from there.
After trading punts, the Packers mounted a scoring drive resulting in a touchdown with around 4 minutes left in the game. Down 17-14, the stage was set. The Panthers would have their chance, but it was not meant to be.
The Panthers moved down the field, albeit aided by two pass interference calls, and get to the Packer six with 16 seconds left. This is a chip-shot field goal, and you know the Panthers are going into overtime with momentum on their side. We're gonna win this thing!
Hold on a minute.
Shayne Graham shows the inability to hit the proverbial broad side of the barn, missing what is essentially a long extra point. Packers win, Bret Favre walks on water, blah, blah, blah.
There's two ways to look at this loss, and both of them are v