CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - With 1:23 left in the game, the Panthers had the ball at the Raiders' 46-yard line, down 34-30.
On 4th-and-1, as the final seconds of the game ticked down, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater handed the ball off to fullback Alex Armah, who had touched the ball only once up to that point in the game.
But Armah was unable to pick up the needed yardage. And with just two timeouts to work with and the clock quickly expiring, the Panthers were powerless to stop the impending loss.
Throughout the Panthers' first of the game season, there were chances and flashes. It was not enough. The game ended for the Panthers on a drive that stalled at midfield with a Carolina offense that showed the potential of being great never being able to click at the level necessary.
In the first game of the Matt Rhule era, the Panthers looked far from a finished product. And without their No. 1 corner Donte Jackson, who missed most of the game due to an ankle injury, the Panthers were not able to do enough to take down the Raiders in their 34-30 defeat.
For the Panthers, Sunday’s game had a lot of good, but never good enough.
Their run defense was porous, with the Raiders' Josh Jacobs doing anything he wanted. He finished with three rushing touchdowns and 85 yards on the ground. The Panthers also struggled to get pressure on Derek Carr, who was not sacked once and had plenty of time to find open receivers.
Despite Jackson’s absence, cornerback Rasul Douglas filled in well, finishing with two passes defensed. Rookie starting corner Troy Pride Jr. gave up a Carr touchdown pass to wide receiver Nelson Agholor that gave Las Vegas the lead in the second quarter, but otherwise played fine, finishing with seven tackles.
After having zero penalties in the first half, the Panthers quickly accumulated four for 47 yards — including a taunting penalty on DJ Moore after an incomplete passed that pushed the offense out of the red zone — in the third quarter. While the Panthers did eventually score on the drive, they took precious time off the clock and made things more difficult than needed.
Bridgewater over- and under-threw multiple receivers throughout the afternoon and the defense missed tackles and gave Jacobs easy runs — including veteran safety Tre Boston missing a tackle on a 29-yard catch-and-run by the second-year back.
The third quarter, though, was the sloppiest. and the Panthers' offense sputtering in its attempt to find any rhythm.
But Bridgewater and McCaffrey gave the Panthers a chance in the fourth quarter with two drives, including a 7:57 scoring drive that ended with McCaffrey’s second rushing touchdown of the day. After the Panthers' defense got the Raiders off the field after five plays, the Panthers got the ball back.
A two-yard run by McCaffrey on first down. And then Bridgewater unleashed an absolute bomb to Robby Anderson — a 75-yard touchdown pass that gave the Panthers the lead (30-27) for the first time since the second quarter. They then converted the two-point conversion that followed, a smart play by Bridgewater, who was able to find Anderson in the back of the end zone.
The failed drive at the end, just a hair and chain measurement short of keeping the drive alive, was the perfect image to describe what went wrong for the Panthers on Sunday.