When two elite teams com together, one of them has to simply shine brighter than the other in order to get the win. With the Green Bay Packers traveling to face the Carolina Panthers in week nine, it was only going to be a matter of time before one of them was going to outshine the other.
The Panthers got the ball first after the coin toss and were able to go down the field and get on the board first. On a drive that featured a key catch by Greg Olsen and a big scrambling run by Cam Newton, they would wind up settling for a 20 yard field goal by Graham Gano as they took an early three point advantage.
The Packers would respond later in the first quarter by taking their first lead of the game. Aaron Rodgers would throw a short one yard pass completion to Richard Rodgers for a touchdown. Mason Crosby easily connected on the extra point for the Packers to go up 7-3 before the end of the quarter.
But the second quarter absolutely belonged to the Carolina Panthers. Newton found Jerricho Cotchery for a big 59 yard pass completion before he was tackled by Micah Hyde. Two plays later Newton took it into the end zone himself as he stretched the ball over the plane and put the Panthers back on top. Rookie Devin Funchess would star on the next possession as he had a big 52 yard completion on the next drive. Olsen would be on the receiving end of that touchdown to put the Panthers up 17-7. Gano hit a field goal from 49 yards out, and then missed a field goal from 43 yards wide left. They were up 20-7. Then with under a minute left in the quarter, Corey Brown caught a 39 yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to a 20 point lead before the half.
It remains unknown what Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy must have told his players in the locker room, but the offense came out and quickly moved the ball down the field for a touchdown in the second half. It only took three plays, three pass completions from Rodgers. The first was to Richard Rodgers before Roman Harper would get a penalty for a unnecessary roughness for throwing Rodgers to the ground after he had already been pushed out of bounds. Then there was a short pass completion to James Starks. But then Randall Cobb had a 53 yard touchdown reception on a wheel route from the slot position. Aaron Rodgers deserves a lot of the credit for a wonderful pass, but Cobb was able to break a few tackles to make it a 27-14 game.
The Panthers defense would shine again though as they only gave up one Packers first down on the next two Packers possessions. Kurt Coleman had a sack of Rodgers to help stop one drive that reached Carolina territory. Also, in the third quarter, the Panthers offense kept Rodgers on the sideline by putting together a nice 13 play, 82 yard drive that resulted in another Gano field goal made, this time from 22 yards out as they couldn't connect on a third and two play as Newton threw it too far outside on a pick play on the left side of the field.
That would the the end of the scoring in the third quarter as the Packers offense just kept struggling to get moving down the field. One major reason for this appears to be that once the Packers fall behind in games, they hardly even bother handing the ball off to their running backs in James Starks and Eddie Lacy. Maybe this is something that Packers Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements is going to learn in the future as being down two touchdowns in the third quarter they still have plenty of time to have a balanced offensive attack.
Mike McCarthy did have a key coaching play in this game, as he won a challenge with 14:01 left in the fourth quarter, turning what was a Cam Newton first down run into a fourth and one and a Brad Nortman punt. But the Packers wouldn't do anything with the ball, as on third and four Kony Ealy knocked the ball out of Rodgers hands and he was able to recover it for a Tim Masthay punt.
Once the Panthers got the ball back they decided it was time to start to seal the game away. It started with a big 20 yard reception by Ted Ginn Jr. Then they would get a big pass interference call on defensive back Damarious Randall. That put them all the way down to the Packers 16 yard line and into the red zone. Funchess would be the one who would put the points on the board this time, as he caught the slant route and wouldn't go down on his way to scoring from 14 yards out on a key third and eight.
Riverboat Ron Rivera also busted out a challenge flag to put close the door on the Packers, but he was rejected as a Rodgers incompletion was kept as an incomplete pass and not changed to a fumble. They then found Davante Adams for a key third and 10 completion for a first down, and then Starks caught two screen passes on the drive and easily got into the end zone with 7:54 left. The main question at this point is Luke Kuechly was looking like he was hobbling around after having an apparent knee injury early in the game. Adams came up big as well as the Packers got a two point conversion to keep the game alive. Trailing now only 37-22.
The Packers would force a three and out to get the ball back with 6:21 in the game. Rodgers had a big play where he stayed in the pocket for about 10 seconds before finding Cobb for a key gain. David Bakhtiari almost had a game killing holding penalty, making it go from first and ten to first and twenty. The Packers ended up having to go for it on a fourth and fourteen near midfield. But James Jones made a big catch to get the ball down to the twenty yard line. Then Starks caught a screen pass down to the 3 yard line before Rodgers would connect with the other Rodgers for a touchdown to put the Packers down just eight points with 3:43 left in the game.
Then one of the biggest plays of the game happened. Randall, who had earlier been victimized on that pass interference call, was able to jump a pass on the outside that Cam Newton was trying to get out of bounds as the Packers would then have the ball the Panthers 22 yard line. The Panthers defense forced a fourth and five and Cobb caught it for a gain of 8 yards. Then they forced a fourth and goal from the four yard line as Rodgers had scrambled forward and it was the two minute warning. After seeing the defensive alignment, Rivera must have seen something he didn't like as he called timeout. Thomas Davis then had the biggest play of the game as he intercepted the Rodgers pass to prevent a touchdown.
The Packers would get the ball back, but there was only six seconds left and 79 yards to go with no timeouts. They tried to lateral it a few times but to no avail as the Packers easily lost the game.
Passing: Aaron Rodgers (24/47, 376 yards, 4 touchdowns, 1 interception)
Rushing: Jonathan Stewart (20 carries, 66 yards)
Receiving: Davante Adams (7 catches, 105 yards)
The Green Bay Packers fall to 6-2 but after facing undefeated teams back to back it should be nice to host the Detroit Lions (1-7) at Lambeau Field next Sunday. Meanwhile the Carolina Panthers have now made it to 8-0 and will try to stay unbeaten against the Tennessee Titans (2-6), who shocked the New Orleans Saints in overtime today. Marcus Mariota will certainly have his hands full against the strong Panthers defense.