The Carolina Panthers treated Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers like their own personal rag doll for the majority of the afternoon on Sunday and held on for a 37-29 win at Bank of America Stadium in Week Nine NFL action. With the victory, Cam Newton’s Panthers stay perfect at 8-0 and are in the catbird seat in the NFC Playoffs. The Packers slip to 6-2 after a second consecutive loss to unbeaten teams on the road.
To make matters sting a little more, the Minnesota Vikings hung on for bare life and got a 21-18 win at home over the St. Louis Rams. The two teams are tied atop the NFC North Division with identical 6-2 marks. Green Bay has a four-game stretch against divisional opponents, facing Minnesota on the road in two weeks.
The offensive line has to take a good portion of the blame for this one as Rodgers was knocked down 14 times, sacked five more and hurried a bunch more for good measure. It was, to put it mildly, not their best effort. There was no time to let any plays develop and precious little time to find any receivers open. Three and outs were the norm instead of the exception and any sense of rhythm on offense was nonexistent.
The defensive line definitely had a co-starring role in this defeat, however. The team failed to register a sack for the second consecutive game. While Newton was a pedestrian 15 out of 30 passes for 297 yards, there were many receivers that he hit with no one in green and gold in the immediate vicinity.
It got so bad that linebacker Julius Peppers was jawing at members of the Packer secondary on the sidelines in the second half. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix got in Peppers’ face and nose tackle B.J. Raji tried to act as referee. Rodgers, himself, lost his cool after his pick, throwing a clipboard to the ground…an incomplete pass that won’t show up in the final stats. The helmetless A-Rod’s forehead was beet-red from the pounding he took during the contest.
Despite all of that, the Packers staged a valiant comeback in the final nine minutes of this one to make it very interesting. Carolina had just taken a 37-14 lead after Cam Newton connected with Devin Funchess on a 14-yard touchdown hookup. You could see any faithful who made the trip heading toward the exits with just 9:22 to play.
But the Pack went up the field lickety-split scoring on a 29 pass from A-Rod to James Starks. The two-point conversion to Davante Adams made it 37-22 just a minute and twenty-six seconds later. Forcing Carolina to punt, Rodgers went back to work and started getting in sync with his team for the first time in three weeks.
As they made it into the red zone, Rodgers found tight end Richard Rodgers a second time from three yards out. Mason Crosby’s point after made it 37-29 at the 3:43 mark. Newton’s next pass from excised by rookie DB Damarius Randall just four seconds later, giving the Packers the ball and their best chance to tie. On fourth and goal from the four yard line, the pocket collapsed one last time and Rodgers
The Pack most definitely had their hands full with Newton and his prowess with the read option. When you have a quarterback that is bigger than the defensive lineman lining up across the line of scrimmage, it is a force to be reckoned with to be sure.
The Panthers took the opening kickoff and got into the red zone in a hurry as Newton used his arm and his legs to move the chains. The Green Bay ‘D,’ which had given up more than 500 yards in consecutive games, plugged the holes and Carolina had to settle for a Graham Gano 20-yard field goal. The Cats had a 3-0 lead at the 10:12 mark of the opening stanza.
After the first couple of drives stalled, Rodgers got his offense into a rhythm for the first time in what seemed like forever. New starting fullback Aaron Ripkowski kept the drive going with a power run off tackle, dragging a couple of defenders until he moved the chains.
A-Rod hit the returning Davante Adams for another first down and James Starks snaked around the right side. Rodgers finished it off after rolling right and hitting Richard Rodgers at the one as he was falling out of bounds. The Packers led, 7-3, with 55 seconds left in the first.
The Panthers went on the prowl for the rest of the half. Rodgers eluded the onslaught a few times, but his receivers either weren’t open or didn’t catch the ball. The offense was completely out of sync and showed no sign of improvement until that spark of life at the end. It’s a cinch that Rodgers’ critics and haters will have a field day just like last week’s prime time hiccup in Denver. But no quarterback, not even the reigning MVP, can win games from the horizontal position.
The Pack comes home after tough back-to-back road losses to face the Detroit Lions next Sunday, Nov. 15, at Lambeau Field. Kickoff is set for noon, CST.