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Inches short on last drive, Panthers lose a heartbreaker to Green Bay in snowy Lambeau

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Panthers at Packers

Expanded coverage of Carolina’s Week 10 loss at Green Bay

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If you’re going to beat Green Bay on Lambeau Field, you better be almost mistake-free.

The Panthers were far from that Sunday, losing a couple of first-half leads and eventually falling, 24-16, to the Packers in front of 78,090 cold fans on a snowy evening in Wisconsin.

The Panthers led this one early, both 7-0 and 10-7, and put up a good fight throughout. But they succumbed after a couple of key mistakes by quarterback Kyle Allen, a run defense that again had big problems and a last-ditch drive that had some great moments but fell about an inch short on the game’s final play on a run by Christian McCaffrey. The call was reviewed but upheld.

Carolina got the ball to the Packers’ 25 on its last drive and still had more than a minute remaining and two timeouts. But Allen had three straight incompletions under duress. On fourth-and-10, with 56 seconds left, the Panthers first called their second timeout in what at this point had become a snowstorm. Then Green Bay called timeout. Then Allen somehow got the ball to DJ Moore for 12 yards and a first down.

The Panthers got to the Green Bay 2 with eight seconds to go.

Allen tried to hit McCaffrey on the next play on a pass to the flat, but threw it too low. The Panthers then ran the ball on the final play of the game with McCaffrey, who was stopped inches short despite offensive guard Greg Van Roten trying to sling him across.

Green Bay running back Aaron Jones scored three TDs for the Packers, taking over the NFL lead in touchdowns from scrimmage from McCaffrey.

McCaffrey then scored himself to tie the two tailbacks with 14 TDs apiece, but couldn’t push the ball over on the game’s final down. It was the second time this year that McCaffrey fell inches short on a fourth-down play in a game-winning or game-tying situation — the first was in a home game against Tampa Bay.

The Panthers (5-4) now will face an Atlanta team that will be coming in hot after upsetting New Orleans on Sunday.

Some more quick notes on the game:

Carolina crossed midfield on each of its first seven possessions, yet netted only 16 points on those possessions. The Panthers’ run defense again had major problems, getting gashed up the middle time and again. Green Bay (8-2) didn’t beat Carolina nearly as convincingly as San Francisco did – this one was still a game all the way to the end – but the Packers did show once again that there is a gap between the NFC’s upper-tier teams and Carolina.

Greg Olsen made some incredible catches in the snow in this one, while eclipsing 700 catches for his career. He also had high praise for Allen after the game, saying that the quarterback’s fourth-quarter performance in the comeback effort “speaks for itself.”

Allen’s lost fumble on a snap in the second quarter was Allen’s seventh fumble in the seven games he has started this season. The Panthers have lost five of those fumbles and recovered two. Allen’s fumble was critical, as the Panthers were leading 10-7 at the time and driving. Allen’s end-zone interception in the third quarter came with Carolina trailing, 21-10, and was his first career red-zone interception.

It started snowing before the first quarter ended and then came down steadily throughout the game — first just in flurries, then in a steady swirl. However, Lambeau Field’s playing surface stayed green until the fourth quarter, when you started to see a whole lot of white.

You undoubtedly wondered why the Panthers went for two, down 24-16 after a McCaffrey TD, in the fourth quarter. It’s an analytics-driven decision, one that takes a long time to explain why it supposedly is a good idea. Anyway, it certainly shows the Panthers are paying a lot of attention to analytics, to their detriment in this case. Allen’s pass was incomplete on the two-point try. The point was rendered somewhat moot by the fact that the Panthers never scored again.

There was a crazy sequence of events at the end of the first half. With Green Bay facing a third-and-13 from its own 7, Rodgers threw the ball away under pressure from Bruce Irvin and Gerald McCoy. But McCoy was called for a personal foul due to slamming Rodgers into the ground, even though replays showed he didn’t land with his full force onto Rodgers. McCoy said later this was the explanation he was given, however.

Fox announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, along with officiating specialist Mike Pereira, were all roundly critical on the telecast of the personal foul call made by referee Jerome Boger (who, in 2012, was bumped by Carolina quarterback Cam Newton while Newton was protesting a call. Newton later apologized).

After the game, Panthers defensive end Mario Addison decried the call as “bull----” several times. “It’s clear nobody was trying to hurt him,” Addison said of Rodgers. “We were just trying to stop him.”

The Packers went 89 yards on the drive after that and then took a calculated risk by going for a touchdown with two seconds left from the Panthers’ 1. But McCoy beat a block and met Jamaal Williams in the backfield, and the Packers ended up with zero points to lead 14-10 at halftime.

This is not a good sign for your run defense, when Aikman says on TV after the Packers broke off another big run: “You just don’t see holes that big in the National Football League!”

Panthers kicker Joey Slye shook off his slump — he had only made five of his previous 10 field-goal tries — with a field goal that had a very high degree of difficulty. Slye hit on a 50-yarder into the swirling wind at Lambeau on his only field-goal attempt of the day.

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