GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Panthers' mistakes aided the Packers' right from the start of Sunday's game at Lambeau Field.
And the high-powered Packers didn't need any help on this day.
Green Bay jumped out a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, and the Panthers never got in the game, losing 38-17.
"I don't think the defense gave us an opportunity to win in the first quarter. I'm disappointed," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We have to understand that if you don't give yourself an opportunity early on, especially against a good football team, you are going to dig a hole. And that's what we did."
Carolina got what it wanted on the game's first series. A sack by defensive end Charles Johnson set up third-and-12. But the Panthers then jumped offside on consecutive plays – first it was defensive end Wes Horton, then linebacker Luke Kuechly.
Third-and-12 suddenly became third-and-two, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers scrambled for three yards to move the chains.
From there, it seemed like the chains never stopped moving.
"That's kind of the story of our day," tight end Greg Olsen said. "If there was a mistake to be made that could have been made, we made it."
On the next play, Rodgers connected with wide receiver Jordy Nelson for a 59-yard touchdown. Nelson got by cornerback Antoine Cason, caught the pass in stride down the sideline and easily side-stepped safety Roman Harper on his way to the end zone.
"I've got to help him out with my technique. It all started at the line, just getting a better jam. He got a free release, which stresses our safeties," Cason said. "He made a great throw."
Rodgers made a lot of them, completing 19-of-22 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns.
After a Carolina three-and-out, Green Bay doubled the lead when running back Eddie Lacy capped a nine-play, 56-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run. The drive included a 12-men on the field penalty against the Panthers on third down that gave the Packers a first down to continue the possession.
"They scored. Then we went three-and-out. They scored. Then we went three-and-out," Olsen said. "You are not going to beat a team like that playing like that. It's pretty simple what happened out there."
A sack by the Packers on third down ended Carolina's next drive after three plays, and Green Bay responded with another touchdown drive. This time, running back James Starks scored on a 13-yard run to give the Packers a 21-0 lead with 2:07 left in the first quarter.
Rivera said "shell-shocked" was an accurate description of the opening quarter.
"That's what it is," Rivera said. "I'm trying to tell the defense, 'One at a time, one a time.' You look up and it's 21-0, and one at a time is tough"
The Panthers forced Green Bay to punt for the first time early in the second quarter, but Carolina failed to capitalize.
Following a 53-yard punt by Brad Nortman, Rodgers and the Packers took over at their own 6-yard line. On third-and-six, rookie defensive end Kony Ealy was penalized for a neutral zone infraction, resulting in a third-and-one that Lacy converted easily with a 10-yard scamper.
Two plays later, Rodgers maneuvered away from pressure and picked out Cobb, who broke free for a 47-yard gain to the Carolina 17-yard line. That set up a Rodgers to Cobb 3-yard touchdown.
The Panthers finally got on the scoreboard when the two-minute offense got them in position for a 33-yard Graham Gano field goal on the last play of the first half.
Carolina received the ball to start the second half and turned the ball over on downs at the Green Bay 42-yard line when quarterback Cam Newton was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1. Rivera challenged the spot, but the ruling was upheld.
Three plays later, Rodgers found wide receiver Davante Adams wide open for a 21-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 35-3.
"We really hurt ourselves," safety Thomas DeCoud said. "We can't allow an offense like that with a quarterback like that extra opportunities."
Matters were made worse after a Lacy fumble was recovered by Green Bay late in the third quarter. On the play, Kuechly was disqualified for making inadvertent contact with an official following a scrum for the ball.
Mason Crosby converted a 34-yard field goal with eight seconds left in the third quarter, and that signaled the end of the day for Rodgers.
Newton's last pass of the day was a 13-yard touchdown to wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin with 9:39 remaining in the game.
Wide receiver Brenton Bersin caught his first career touchdown on a 1-yard pass from Derek Anderson in the closing moments.
"We got the wood taken to us," DeCoud said. "Now we have to go back out and show that we are a good football team."