Mistakes around goal line costly to Panthers in 24-16 loss to Packers

GREEN BAY, Wisconsin — Mistakes around the goal line resulted in one more frustratingly close loss for the Carolina Panthers.

Carolina fumbled on first-and-goal from the 1 and committed a holding penalty that nullified a potential touchdown in a 24-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night.

“It’s always disappointing when you get down there and you have points, and you do something like that to prevent your team from scoring,” Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said.

The Panthers (4-10) have lost eight of their last nine games because of their inability to finish. In eight of their losses this season, they had the ball late in the fourth quarter with a chance to win or send the game into overtime.

That continued Saturday, as Carolina got the ball on its own 20-yard line with 55 seconds left but lost the ball on downs. A holding penalty on the punt return and an intentional grounding penalty on first down never gave the Panthers much of a chance on that final series.

But finishing the game wasn’t the problem Saturday. Carolina outscored Green Bay 13-3 and outgained the Packers 214-49 in the second half after allowing touchdowns on each of the Packers’ first three series.

The Panthers hung tough against one of the NFL’s top teams while playing without injured 2019 All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey and left tackle Russell Okung.

“The way we came out in the second half, it was completely different,” Panthers defensive end Brian Burns said. “I don’t know what clicked in everybody’s head, but we just came out with a different mentality. But I feel like we’ve got a good defense now. If we cut out these small errors, I feel like we can be great.”

The Panthers’ issue was finishing drives.

Carolina trailed 14-3 in the second quarter but had first-and-goal at the 1 when Bridgewater tried leaping over the line for a touchdown. The plan backfired when Krys Barnes knocked the ball loose.

Cornerback Kevin King picked the ball up and raced 48 yards before D.J. Moore finally brought him down.

Bridgewater blamed himself for trying to reach the ball across the goal line, making him vulnerable to a fumble.

“I guarantee you, if I ever have to run a quarterback sneak again for the rest of my career, I’ll probably make sure I never reach the ball over the top, unless it’s fourth-and-1,” Bridgewater said.

That turnover eventually led to a 14-point swing, as Aaron Jones capped the Packers’ ensuing drive by high-stepping untouched for an 8-yard touchdown run around the left end.

“You talk about a dramatic shift,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said. “Had he done that on fourth down, I could live with it, right? But just not on first down, especially when I thought we ran the ball well when we did run it tonight. That’s a principle of our team — we don’t reach the ball across the goal line until fourth down.”

Carolina crept back into the game and trailed 21-10 in the fourth quarter when Bridgewater once again fumbled inside the 5-yard line. This time, tight end Ian Thomas pounced on the ball in the end zone for an apparent touchdown.

But the touchdown was nullified by a holding penalty on John Miller. The Panthers had to settle for a Joey Slye 22-yard field goal that made it 21-13 with 8:39 left. They never could cut the margin below eight points.

This is the second straight year Carolina has struggled around the end zone at Green Bay (11-3).

Carolina also fell 24-16 at Lambeau Field last season. The Panthers owned a 5-3 record last year before losing to the Packers when McCaffrey got stopped short of the goal line as time expired. That defeat started an eight-game losing streak that ended Carolina’s 2019 season.

That 2019 trip to Green Bay opened a 22-game stretch in which the Panthers have gone 4-18. But the performance of Carolina’s defense Saturday night at least offered the Panthers something on which they can build.

“You hate these losses,” Rhule said. “But if there’s a message, it’s like if we just do what we’re supposed to do, we’re a pretty good team.”

Packers outlast Panthers 24-16 for 4th straight victory

Green Bay’s fast start helped the Packers overcome a shaky second-half performance and remain on pace to earn the top seed in the NFC playoffs.

Aaron Jones rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown as the NFC North champions reached the end zone on their first three series before hanging on to beat the Carolina Panthers 24-16 on Saturday night.

Aaron Rodgers threw for a season-low 143 yards but produced a touchdown pass — his 40th of the season — and a touchdown run for the Packers. Rodgers is the first player in NFL history to throw at least 40 touchdown passes in three separate seasons; he had 45 during his 2011 MVP campaign and 40 in 2016.

Green Bay (11-3) won its fourth straight despite getting outscored 13-3 and outgained 214-49 in the second half. Rodgers called the second half “definitely a stinker for the offense.”

“We just know that type of football in the second half is not going to get it done in the playoffs, where we’re going,” Rodgers said.

Green Bay won its fourth straight and took a half-game lead over New Orleans (10-3) in the race for the NFC’s best record. The Packers own a tiebreaker over the Saints after winning 37-30 at New Orleans on Sept. 27.

Under the NFL’s new 14-team playoff format this year, only the No. 1 seed in each conference earns a first-round bye.

“It’s very critical,” Jones said. “We want everything to run through Lambeau. We know we control what happens.”

The Packers built a 21-3 halftime lead before withstanding a comeback attempt from a gritty Carolina team playing without injured 2019 All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey and left tackle Russell Okung.

Carolina had a chance to force overtime when it got the ball at its 20-yard line with 55 seconds and no timeouts remaining. But the Panthers only got to the 26 before losing the ball on downs.

The Panthers (4-10) have lost eight of their last nine games.

Carolina’s Teddy Bridgewater was 21 of 35 for 258 yards with a touchdown run, but he also had a critical fumble. D.J. Moore caught six passes for 131 yards, and Joey Slye kicked three field goals.

Rodgers capped Green Bay’s first series with a 1-yard pass to tight end Robert Tonyan, who has scored in five consecutive games. After Carolina cut the lead to 7-3 on Slye’s 36-yard field goal, Green Bay reached the end zone again as Rodgers ran it in on third-and-goal from the 6.

Trailing 14-3 in the second quarter, Carolina had first-and-goal at the 1 when Bridgewater tried leaping over the line and Green Bay’s Krys Barnes knocked the ball loose. Kevin King recovered the fumble at the 4 and raced 48 yards before Moore brought him down.

“That was the play of the game, no doubt about it,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said.

Jones capped the Packers’ ensuing drive by high-stepping untouched for an 8-yard touchdown around the left end.

“I think the biggest thing we said to our guys is we weren’t playing football at first,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said. “Like they were throwing the ball out on the perimeter and catching screens, and they’re running the ball downhill and running the ball through us, we’re not tackling. And then I think our pride kind of kicked in. We played better after that.”

Carolina scored the first 10 points of the second half on Bridgewater’s 13-yard scramble and Slye’s 22-yard field goal. That made it 21-13 with 8:39 left. The Panthers settled for the field goal after John Miller’s holding penalty nullified a touchdown.

Mason Crosby gave the Packers some breathing room with a 51-yard field goal with 3:39 left, but the Panthers wouldn’t go away. After Bridgewater threw a 40-yard completion to Moore, the Panthers sent their field-goal unit on for Slye’s 33-yarder, which cut the lead to 24-16 with 2:04 left.

ADAMS’ STREAK SNAPPED

Green Bay’s Davante Adams had seven catches for 42 yards and didn’t reach the end zone, ending his streak of eight games with a touchdown reception.

Only two players in the Super Bowl era have put together longer such streaks within the same season. Jerry Rice caught a touchdown pass in 12 straight games in 1987. A.J. Green did it in nine straight in 2012.

INJURY REPORT

Panthers cornerback Troy Pride injured his groin late in the first quarter.

Packers running back Jamaal Williams left with a quadriceps injury in the first half. Barnes left in the third quarter with an eye injury. Outside linebackers Rashan Gary and Za’Darius Smith were shaken up late in the fourth quarter. Safety Will Redmond was evaluated for a concussion.

UP NEXT

Carolina is at Washington on Dec. 27.

Green Bay hosts Tennessee in another night game on Dec. 27.