GREEN BAY, Wis. – Christian McCaffrey said Kyle Allen "fought his ass off." Ron Rivera praised Allen's "moxie." Greg Olsen described Allen's fourth-quarter performance as "pretty incredible."
With all that said, the final score didn't care that Allen nearly helped the Panthers pull off a miraculous comeback in adverse conditions at a venerable stadium.
"It doesn't matter," Allen replied when asked about moral victories. "It's a win or loss league."
And it's a league where turnovers are often the deciding factor. Allen had two. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers had none.
"We knew coming in against this team, they're a team that doesn't turn over the ball much. Aaron does a really good job of not turning the ball over and making plays when he needs to," Allen said. "For me to turn the ball over twice, it put us in a bad position, and I think at the end of the day, that's the main reason why we lost."
What made the giveaways hurt even more was where they happened.
The first came at the Green Bay 46-yard line early in the second quarter. Leading 10-7, the Panthers had momentum and a second-and-1 when Allen fumbled the snap from center Matt Paradis. It appeared Paradis was supposed to reach for the 3 technique defensive lineman, an assignment that would have required Allen to hold the snap for just a split second longer. Instead, he came out from under Paradis without control of the ball, which ended up in the hands of defensive end Montravius Adams.
"There was no hurry or anything, just didn't get it," Allen said of his fifth lost fumble of the season and his first since he lost three in Week 3 at Houston.
The second turnover happened midway through the third quarter with the Panthers trailing, 21-10, but in great position to get closer. On second-and-10 from the Packers' 11, Allen's first read was McCaffrey, who was running a curl on the right side of the field. But when Allen saw that covered, he slipped through pressure and looked to the left side of the end zone. There he saw wide receiver Jarius Wright but not free safety Adrian Amos until it was too late.
"As I was throwing, I saw (Amos) come," Allen said. "I tried to fit into a window that I didn't need to on second down and I'm lucky (Amos) didn't pick it off first. But then it got tipped up in the air and it got intercepted (by cornerback Tramon Williams), anyway. That's just something I've gotta learn. It's second down. We have more plays to play. We can save the plays, so it's on me."
At that moment, it seemed like the Panthers' day was done. Allen's two mistakes were too many. But as we continue to learn about the 23-year-old, he doesn't go away when he's supposed to.
On Carolina's next drive, Allen went four-of-five for 60 yards before McCaffrey scored on a 3-yard run. That brought the Panthers to within 8, a deficit that remained when they gambled and lost on the ensuing 2-point conversion attempt.
But Allen and the Panthers still wouldn't go away. As snow fell harder, they got the ball back at their 11-yard line with 2:25 to play. Facing an onslaught of Packers' pressure, Allen completed eight of 14 passes for 74 yards, including a 12-yard connection to DJ Moore on a fourth-and-10. But Allen's next three throws fell incomplete before McCaffrey’s final run fell inches short of the goal line.
It was part thrilling, part disappointing. It was impossible not to be at least somewhat impressed by Allen, who finished with a career-best 307 yards.
"I've played with a lot of good quarterbacks and that's about as good as a performance considering the circumstances that I've ever played with," Olsen said. "What he did against that defense with that front pinning their ears back knowing we had to throw the ball. We all saw the conditions and the weather, down 14 in the fourth quarter. To lead us down the field was pretty incredible.
"I thought what he did tonight overall, and of course, that fourth quarter was as impressive a quarterback display I've ever seen."
"I thought he did the things we needed him to do to give us a chance at the end, at least. He's continuing to grow. Let's not forget, this is pretty much like a rookie (year) for him. … I love his mental toughness. The young man's going to go out there and we're going to learn and we're going to grow with him. The young man's done a terrific job, and unfortunately, we had a couple bad things happen.
The Panthers fought through some questionable calls and nearly pulled off a wild rally, but those "couple bad things" were ultimately the difference. If Allen can learn to clean those up, moral victories could someday turn into something more.
"The more starts I get under my belt, the more experience I have. The more mistakes I make, the more I learn from them. But at the same time, I know I'm a young guy, but I'm the quarterback of this team. I can't be doing that," Allen said.
"This is a very talented team, and when we play clean football, we can win a lot of games. It doesn't matter what age I am; it doesn't matter how many starts I have. I have to play clean football, or else it's not fair to this team."