CHARLOTTE — The Panthers did not give up, when there was every expectation that they might have.
That might have made the result even crueler.
The Panthers lost 34-28 to the Vikings in overtime, in a period they didn't appear capable of reaching for so much of the day.
Kirk Cousins hit K.J. Osborn for a 27-yard touchdown pass to cap the first possession of the extra frame, leaving the Panthers unable to answer.
But so many times Sunday, they had done just that.
The Panthers looked hopelessly lost when Sam Darnold led an 11-play, 96-yard touchdown drive with 42 seconds left in the game, to tie the Vikings, 28-28.
During that drive, unlikely targets became trustworthy, with Ian Thomas' 41-yard catch-and-run providing a lift. Then came Robby Anderson's touchdown reception, punctuating a day filled with drops. And then came the two-point conversion shovel pass to Tommy Tremble.
But they left the Vikings with time, and it took kicker Greg Joseph missing a second field goal to allow the extra session.
It was a day of exhilarating highs, but the Panthers will be left to consider all the chances they missed throughout the day.
It wasn't necessarily the third quarter.
And it wasn't necessarily the special teams.
While the Vikings made timely plays following swings in momentum, the Panthers fell flat at the wrong times.
If there was a single play that seemed to boil down the Panthers' early frustrations to an essence, it was when Darnold hit Moore for a nice completion with 4:00 left in the third quarter, the kind of quick pass they needed in the face of the Vikings pressure, to answer after the Vikings had re-taken the lead.
Moore, their most reliable receiver, fumbled.
The fact it was the first time all day a Panthers receiver had recorded his second reception was the underscore on a play that looked so good.
The Panthers were unable to sustain any rhythm in the passing game, constantly in third-and-longs, and just 2-of-12 converting on thirds.
Darnold was 17-of-41 for 271 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and that got better as the day went along. He was an 5-of-18 for 60 yards at the half, with an interception on his first pass of the day.
Between that and a number of dropped passes (including multiple by Anderson), it put the defense in a tough spot.
And they couldn't play perfectly all day.
With Vikings quarterback Cousins having a sharp day (33-of-48 for 373 yards and three touchdowns) and making a few nearly impossible passes (the third quarter touchdown to Adam Thielen was placed into a window about the size of a mailbox), the Panthers couldn't keep enough points off the board.
Asked what the struggles and the rally and the eventual loss showed about his team, Panthers head coach Matt Rhule pointed to the problems of execution.
"That we have a long way to go," Rhule said. "That we're not where we want to be. You can't line up and call two timeouts two plays in a row, you can't do those things; you can't take the sacks we took today, you can't turn the ball over. I like our competitive nature and our work ethic and all those things are improving, I like those things about us but the execution has to come along with it. And I don't see that, I don't see that execution right now. All I know how to do is keep working, I'm kind of out of words for it. Just keep working and guys go out and find a way to make plays."
— The Panthers have struggled at times this year on special teams.
Sunday, they made a play that gave the team the lead in the third quarter.
Frankie Luvu came through the line and blocked a punt, which was recovered by Kenny Robinson for a touchdown.
At that point, the Panthers led 17-12, and it might have been the spark they so desperately needed.
But the Vikings followed with a 79-yard touchdown drive, collected the Moore fumble, and then another quick touchdown drive to snuff out any sense that the Panthers were going to build after the special teams spark.
— The Panthers were forced to adjust throughout the game because of injury.
Marshall suffered a concussion, and did not return.
The Panthers activated Shi Smith for the first time, and he and Brandon Zylstra (who came back from a hamstring injury of his own during the game) were playing key snaps down the stretch.
View in-game photos from the Panthers and Vikings in Week 6 at Bank of America Stadium.