Monday Morning Questions
This, that and the other while trying to make sense of Carolina's 24-16 loss at the Green Bay Packers.
What just happened?
With the Saints losing to Atlanta, the Panthers (5-4) failed to make up a game on New Orleans in the NFC South and remain two games back. It also gave up ground in the NFC postseason picture, slipping to a projected ninth seed if the six-team playoffs started today.
What did we learn?
There are plenty of things to take away from a snowy Sunday at Lambeau Field -- both positives and negatives from a Carolina perspective. Kyle Allen made mistakes, but showed he can put the Panthers in a position to win late in a challenging environment; D.J. Moore continues to develop into a go-to receiver; and the overall vibe is confident.
But untimely penalties, ball protection and an often disoriented defense are serious issues that must be addressed as the season continues to evaporate.
Why did Carolina go for two?
It was all about the math -- and the weather.
That's why coach Ron Rivera says hs chose to go for a two-point conversion following a 3-yard-touchdown by Christian McCaffrey early in the fourth quarter. It cut the Packers' lead to 24-16 with 11:58 remaining and Rivera said he looked at the charts.
“That was purely analytics, 100 percent. The thing is, if you get it there and you score at the end, then you’re kicking to win the game,” Rivera said. “If you don’t get it there, you get an opportunity to go for two again, which we felt pretty good about the play we had called the first time and we felt good about having the second one. It most certainly was just following the analytics of it.”
Rivera also said kicking the PAT was no sure thing, given the snow that continued to cascade onto Lambeau Field, saying "with the way the weather is turning, you couldn’t say you’d get a clean snap, a clean hold and a clean kick, too.”
What was up with the officiating?
The NFL will likely dissect video from Sunday's game and it's reaction should be interesting. Because Jerome Boger’s crew struggled throughout the game, making some questionable calls and missing a few obvious ones.
Exhibit 'A': Green Bay was facing 3rd and 13 from its own end zone late in the first half when McCoy was flagged for roughing the passer as Rodgers threw the ball away. The penalty changed the complexion of the drive -- the Packers were awarded a first down at its 22 instead of fourth and 13 and punting -- and the game. Green Bay led 14-10 at the time, but the gap seemed much larger after that.
And what's up with the Panthers' run defense?
That might be the biggest question at the moment.
Green Bay rolled up 163 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns, making it the the third time the Panthers have surrendered at least 150 yards rushing this season. Just as concerning is that the Packers averaged 6.0 yards per carry.
What's the reason? Failure to maintain gap control, over-pursuit, missed tackles and merely losing the battle at the first point of contact -- pick any or all and you'd be correct.
How much did the Panthers miss James Bradberry?
It was a significant hit at least to Ross Cockrell, who was picked on most of the game while Davante Adams made seven catches and 118 yards.
But overall that was only part of it. Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, coming off a loss at the Chargers during which he was constantly harassed, was consistently moving around in the pocket or escaping it entirely to extend plays. He didn't post overwhelming numbers -- going 17 of 29 for 233 yards and without a touchdown -- Rodgers did what was needed to compliment that strong Green Bay running game.
Who gets a high-five?
Let's give it to Greg Olsen, who had eight receptions for 98 yards. It was the most catches since a 31-24 win on Dec. 17, 2017 in Charlotte and included a couple of clutch first downs to extend drives. Olsen also raised his career reception total to 701, the fifth-most in NFL history among tight ends. Kyle Allen also targeted Olsen a season-high 10 times and more than the last two games combined.
Honorable mention: The snow that fell on Lambeau Field made the playing surface a little slick and impacted the game, but it created an environment worthy of NFL Films.
Who gets a low-five?
Carolina's run defense.
Honorable mention: Those officials.
Who needs a hug?
Gerald McCoy had four tackles, including two for a loss, and half a sack. But the narrative surrounding him after the game is the phantom roughing-the-passer call -- even if he did redeem himself with a major stuff at the end of that drive.
Honorable mention: Kyle Allen was 28-for-43 passing for a career-high 307 passing yards and a touchdown. But he also had an interception and lost fumble that proved costly. Carolina has 17 takeaways in its five wins, but have yet to secure a turnover during its four losses. The Panthers lost the turnover battle, 2-, to Green Bay.