CHARLOTTE – It’s a story we've seen play out before.
The Panthers offense knocking on the door of the end zone during a last-minute situation with the game on the line. It’s happened over and over this season.
First, it was Week 2 on Thursday night against Tampa Bay, where running back Christian McCaffrey came up inches short on fourth down in the 20-14 loss. Then again in Green Bay in Week 10, McCaffrey was once again turned away at the goal line as time expired in the 24-16 loss.
More recently, the Panthers had three cracks at the end zone from the 3-yard line at New Orleans with the game on the line. Three times they were kept at bay, and a missed field goal led to a Saints victory.
“We do some really nice things, get ourselves into position and we just miss the opportunities,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “This is the fourth game we were down there and we’ve had a chance, and that is a hard pill to swallow.”
Let's take a closer look at this particular pill.
On the Panthers final offensive play against the Redskins, a fourth down from the 3-yard line, Carolina aligned with three receivers split out to the right. Prior to the snap, McCaffrey motioned out of the backfield to join them. As quarterback Kyle Allen caught the snap, McCaffrey and two of the wide outs broke inside, allowing wide receiver Jarius Wright to slip into the front corner of the end zone unnoticed.
The only problem was Allen didn’t see him.
“I didn’t see anything open right away and tried to scramble and make a play and they got me,” Allen said. “I’ll go back and look at it and see where he was and see what they did, but if he was open, I’ve got to find him.”
Even before Wright ran to the flat and turned his head, he said he fully expected to see the ball sailing towards him because of the way the play had been designed.
“I definitely thought I was going to get that ball, but I’ll be the first one to tell you, the quarterback has the hardest job on the field,” Wright said. “It’s hard to see everybody. It’s not his fault he didn’t see me.”
That pressure led to Allen’s scrambling and, ultimately, a 23-yard sack and the end of the game.
Still, just as in Green Bay, a touchdown wouldn’t have guaranteed victory. Trailing 29-21, the Panthers offense would have had to line right back up and do it all over again just to even the score with a two-point conversion – of which Carolina is only 1-of-3 this season. Even then, the game would still have to be won in overtime.
But without the ability to execute in these critical situations, whether they’re for the win or the tie, the Panthers have come up empty-handed time and time again.
“It’s haunted us all year. We’ve just got to be better,” Wright said. “Any time that you have a chance to win a game and you don’t pull it off, that’s always the most heartfelt loss.
“If we got out there and just got our ass kicked, not to say you can deal with it, but it’s like, ‘OK, we got our ass kicked, let’s regroup, let’s bounce back. It’s them close ones that are tough.”
View photos from Week 13 as Carolina hosts Washington.