Final drive started poorly, kept getting worse for the Panthers

Curtis Samuel stopped short

CHARLOTTE — Once they start, avalanches very seldom turn around and start going back up the hill.

So trying to figure out which snowflake was to blame can be tricky business.

The Panthers' final drive with a chance to win the game went awry early and often, with a fourth-down pass to Curtis Samuel that was stopped well short of the line needed to convert simply the final miscue in a day full of them.

During their 32-27 loss to the Broncos, the Panthers again had a chance to drive for a game-winning score. But it turned out to be their seventh loss in one-score games this year.

And when it started to unravel, it went quickly.

After forcing Denver to punt from deep in their own territory, a 13-yard punt return by Pharoh Cooper would have given the Panthers the ball at the 50-yard line with 2:48 left.

That's a very manageable starting spot (even with no timeouts), except for the holding penalty on Natrell Jamerson on the return. That backed them up to their own 27, making it that much harder.

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater barely had time to think on first down, taking a quick sack for a loss of 6 yards.

He got that and two more yards back on the next play to Cooper, but rushed a play on third down, when his boss would have preferred he waited until the two-minute warning, so they could have used that time to make sure they were in the right play.

Head coach Matt Rhule was explicit that they shouldn't have rushed the third-and-8 play in (especially considering their recent late-game issues rushing plays in against the Vikings).

"It's one of those deals where we could've used the two-minute to come up with an ideal play," Bridgewater said. "The play that I signaled in was actually a good play as well, but we just didn't execute it.

"It was one of those deals where I saw the defense kind of looming around and thought we could steal a first down, move the sticks. . . . Yeah, that's definitely me. I saw the defense mulling around, and I thought maybe we could just throw an out route, get out of bounds, beat the two-minute, maybe. But looking back, it's one of those deals where you wish we would've let the clock go to two minutes."

From there, the Panthers were left with fourth-and-8, and the Broncos had deeper routes for Robby Anderson and Cooper covered. For Bridgewater, seeing Samuel flash across the middle short of the sticks was better than taking a sack, so he went with what he saw.

"That fourth-down situation, it was one of those deals where I would've liked to get the ball past the first down," he said. "I was stepping up in the pocket, basically saw Curtis [Samuel] pop, the defense ran a stunt and I just figured get the ball out, that's better than taking a sack right there. They played good coverage on that play as well. For me, it was one of those deals where you take a sack right there, it's even worse than trying to give our guys a chance. Our line did a great job of trying to pick up the game and Curtis popped but, like I said, they had good coverage.

"You look at us over the course of the year, we have been coming up short, and I think it's just an area that we have to improve in, and it starts with me."

It didn't end with him, however.

View photos from Carolina's Week 14 contest against Denver at Bank of America Stadium.

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