Panthers’ fourth-and-1 trickery falls short against Raiders

Carolina lost the debut of new coach Matt Rhule

Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) celebrates after his defense stopped the Carolina Panthers on fourth and one during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Brian Westerholt)

A year ago, with Cam Newton nursing a foot injury that would soon end his season, Panthers coach Ron Rivera called for Christian McCaffrey to run the ball on fourth-and-1 instead of his franchise quarterback with the Week Two game against Tampa Bay on the line. McCaffrey came up short and the Panthers lost.

A year later, Rivera is gone, winning his debut as head coach of Washington. Newton was starting at quarterback for New England and passing 15 of 19 for 155 yards, rushing for 75 and scoring twice in a win. And McCaffrey is one of the biggest stars in the game and an MVP candidate.

Again, the Panthers faced fourth-and-1 with the game on the line. This time, new coach Matt Rhule chose not to give the ball to his franchise player, opting for fullback Alex Armah instead of McCaffrey.

Armah, who had rushed the ball 15 times in his three-year NFL career (for a total of 26 yards) was stopped short, and the Las Vegas Raiders held on to win at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium, 34-30.

Three thoughts

1. The Panthers offense was solid in the official start to the post-Newton era. Teddy Bridgewater passed 22 of 34 for 270 yards and a 75-yard touchdown pass to Robbie Anderson that gave the Panthers a late lead. McCaffrey rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Alex Armah rushed twice for one yard to rank fourth on the team for the day.

2. The defense was expected to struggle this year and lived down to expectations. After stopping the Raiders on a three-and-out to start the game, the Panthers allowed Las Vegas to score on its next five drives and six of the next seven. Vegas converted six of 11 third downs, including a third-and-8 where Carolina’s Tahir Whitehead picked up his second pass interference of the game to set up the go-ahead touchdown.

3. The Panthers held on to kicker Joey Slye ahead of veteran Graham Gano in the offseason, then kept him instead of versatile kicker/punter Kaare Vedvik. Slye responded by missing an extra point in the opener. He ranked among the NFL leaders in missed kicks last season, going off the mark on 11 (seven field-goal attempts and four PATs) and is picking up where he left off.

Number to Know

0.6— Alex Armah’s yards per game rushing average for his career.

They Said It

“He’s a baller. He brings energy.”

— Patriots receiver Julian Edelman on Cam Newton

Player of the Game

Christian McCaffrey, Panthers running back — The versatile McCaffrey rushed for 96 yards, scoring twice for the Panthers. He added 38 yards on three catches, including a long of 16 yards. Unfortunately for the Panthers, his 23 carries were probably at least one fewer than he should have gotten.

Critical thinking

The Panthers have three road games, two of them against divisional foes, in the next four weeks, with a game against the improved Cardinals as the only home contest over that span. This was Carolina’s best chance to win a game for more than a month. Now, Carolina will have the Oct. 18 home game against the Bears circled as its next best opportunity.