As the Panthers faced fourth-and-10 from their own 31-yard line with 2:06 remaining on Sunday, fans were likely saying the following to themselves or out loud: These Cardiac Cats are going to kill me!
For the third a week in a row and what feels like almost every week at this point, the game came down to achingly dramatic plays at the end of the fourth quarter.
A fourth-down conversion. A play-action pass to score the go-ahead touchdown on third down with 1:26 left. A pass interference penalty that put Philadelphia in striking distance with plenty of time. An interception to end the game? Nope, an overturned interception that gave the Eagles new life. A fourth-down strip-sack that ended the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in franchise history.
It certainly does feel like the Panthers do this every week. There was the Washington ending where Cam Newton and the offense came up just short. How about that 63-yard Gano field goal to beat the Giants in the final seconds? Or the Donte Jackson interception when Cincinnati was threatening late? Or the final throw to the end zone in the Atlanta game? Or the strip-sack of Dak Prescott to end Dallas' hopes in the opener?
Carolina has played four of six games with outcomes of seven points or less this season. The other two games? The Panthers beat Dallas by eight and Cincinnati by 10.
That's a lot of drama for one fan base to endure. But Panther fans, you're not alone.
Just ask the Browns or Titans, two teams that each have five games decided by three points or less this season. Heck, the Browns have gone to overtime four times already.
Just last week, New Orleans escaped Baltimore on a missed extra point, Tampa Bay won in overtime on a 59-yard field goal and New York was threatening Atlanta in the final minute.
Carolina's four games decided by seven points or less this season? There are 12 other teams with at least that many so far this year.
The Panthers have had 22 games decided by three points or less since 2013. That ranks 10th in the NFL in that span. Since 2011, Carolina has had 55 seven-point games, tied for 14th-most in the league.
But what's more impressive is how many of these games the Panthers have won. Carolina won 13 three-point games since 2013, tied for second-most in the NFL in that span.
Over that same stretch, the Panthers have won 26 games by seven points or fewer, tied for the most in the NFL.
|NFL Wins By 7 Points or Less (2013-18)|
In Carolina's last four playoffs seasons, the Panthers have ranked in the top five in each in wins by seven points or less (2013-5th, 2014-5th, 2015-3rd, 2017-2nd). In 2016, the Panthers ranked 21st with a 2-6 record in such games.
So many dramatic finishes are nothing new in the NFL. From 2011 to 2017, 848 of 1,798 games (47.3 percent) were decided by seven points or less. During that time period, 45.5 percent of Carolina's games came down to seven points or less, so Carolina plays roughly the same number of close games as everyone else. The difference is they are winning them at a higher rate. That's the margin between being a playoff team or not in this league.
So those defining plays in the fourth quarter that you can't seem to forget and your blood pressure hates you for? Just got to keep hoping they break Carolina's way.