CHARLOTTE – One yard to stay alive. Two yards to take the lead.
“Coach put the ball in my hands at the end of the game and I blew it,” McCaffrey said. “So, it’s my fault. I’ll take that one.”
Carolina’s star running back is being extremely hard on himself. The Panthers’ 20-14 loss obviously doesn’t fall on him alone.
Be that as it may, this was one of those games where it did come down to one play.
It was fourth-and-2 from the Tampa Bay 3-yard line with 1:28 left in the game. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner had his play cued up. Then the Buccaneers called back-to-back timeouts, a penalty that moved the ball half the distance to the goal.
So it became fourth-and-1 from the 2-yard line. Turner went with the same play.
“We felt pretty confident about the play call,” Rivera said. “That’s something we’ve been working on. Felt the opportunity was right to run it.”
Quarterback Cam Newton motioned to the right and hovered over right tackle Taylor Moton, leaving McCaffrey alone in the backfield with three receivers (Curtis Samuel, Greg Olsen and Chris Manhertz) bunched to the left.
“It looked like it was going to be the 'Philly Special' from the Super Bowl – a reverse pass. When Cam walked up to the line of scrimmage, that’s what I thought it was going to be,” Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III said.
Hargreaves was sort of right. The formation is nearly identical to the Eagles’ iconic “Philly Special” play from their Super Bowl victory over the Patriots. But the Panthers had another idea.
Turner called for McCaffrey to take the snap and fake a handoff to Samuel, who sprinted from left to right into the backfield. Newton threw his hand in the air as a receiving threat, but, like Samuel’s movement, that was just to draw attention.
Hargreaves was right about one thing – something was up. So instead following his man (Samuel) across the formation, he stayed home.
“We counted on (Hargreaves) going with Curtis. It was a well thought out play,” Olsen said. “For some reason the corner didn’t run with Curtis. He was left unblocked.”
And he was waiting for McCaffrey to come right to him.
“I just had to make the play,” Hargreaves said.
McCaffrey used a stiff arm to try to power his way through Hargreaves as they battled toward the sideline. But Hargreaves held his ground and McCaffrey was pushed out of bounds short of the line to gain.
The officials reviewed it and came to the same conclusion. Short.
“I should put my foot in the ground and get that yard no matter what,” McCaffrey said. “Shouldn’t leave it up to the refs.”
Frustrating way to lose? That doesn’t even begin to describe it.
“Every loss sucks,” McCaffrey said. “Sucks a little more when you have an opportunity at the end of the game to win and you don’t do it.
“I’m going to learn from it, grow from it and I promise I’ll come back better.”