CHARLOTTE – It may not have been pretty, but the Panthers defense rose to the occasion when the game was on the line.
With 10 seconds left, Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew heaved a Hail Mary to the end zone, but Panthers safety Eric Reid picked off the pass and sealed the win. Only... it didn't count.
Panthers defensive end Mario Addison was flagged for illegal hands to the face, giving Minshew another shot with two seconds on the clock. Another last-ditch effort fell to the turf, only this time, Panthers defensive end Brian Burns was called offsides. Minshew and the Jags would be gifted another chance on an untimed down.
"I was just praying that they didn't convert to a touchdown," Burns said of his error.
Finally, with the game on the line for the third time, linebacker Luke Kuechly batted down the last last chance, giving the Panthers their third win of the season.
"We just made some stupid mistakes letting them stay in the game," said cornerback James Bradberry, who dropped an interception early on the drive. "Those two flags and I should have caught that pick. We kind of kept bailing them out."
The game's final series served as a snapshot of the entirety of the ups and downs the Panthers defense had against the Jaguars all day Sunday.
"Sometimes you have those games, man. Today was one of them," safety Tre Boston said. "I'd like to finish it sooner."
Still, the defense had its moments on Sunday against the Jaguars.
Addison and Burns each recorded a strip sack, and Reid recovered a third fumble on a botched exchange by Minshew. Burns even scooped up the ball after Addison's sack and returned it 56 yards for a touchdown.
"I couldn't believe it until I got to the sideline and watched the replay," Burns said. "I thought they were going to call it an incomplete pass or something. That's my first touchdown, pretty much ever, since little league."
As flashy as those big plays were, they can't erase the fact Jacksonville posted 507 net yards of offense.
Coming into the game, the Panthers defense led the league in pass defense, allowing an average of just 156.8 passing yards per game. That changed on Sunday after Minshew shredded the secondary for a career-high 374 yards and two touchdowns.
"I think the offensive coordinator and head coach did a great job planning for us," Boston said. "Giving the guy stuff he was comfortable with. He did a great job with his feet, staying mobile, looking down field. He's a good player. We definitely put our hats off to him."
Minshew's favorite target Sunday was wide receiver DJ Chark Jr., who hauled in eight catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns. The Panthers defense struggled with Chark's big play ability, as the receiver gashed the secondary with three catches over 30 yards.
"We've got to just keep fighting, bring the energy, even when they have big plays like that," Boston said. "We can't let them sweep the energy from us. You've got to know they make plays too. They get paid to make plays."
If there's a silver lining in the defense's performance Sunday, it came in their ability to contain Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette. Fournette finished the day with 108 yards rushing, but 48 of those came on a single play. Take that away, and the Panthers D held Fournette to 60 yards on 22 carries for an average of 2.7 yards.
"What it comes down to is discipline," Kuechly said. "We had a good game plan going in, the big guys up front played really well, but it's a lot of just discipline and making sure you're in the right spot."
Despite its inconsistencies, the Panthers defense did just enough on the final drive to secure the win, marking the first time in franchise history the team allowed over 500 net yards and still emerged victorious.
"At the end of the day, we got a W," Boston said. "You've got to be happy about that."