GREEN BAY, Wisc. — The Carolina Panthers lost 24-16 to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field, but showed they might have what it takes to remain a contender in the NFC playoff hunt for the duration.
And quarterback Kyle Allen, despite a costly interception, may have earned a little more respect by taking this one down to the final play inside the Green Bay 1.
Playing in a hostile environment in a steady flurry of snow the Panthers (5-4) went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the NFC. They showed the 51-13 loss to undefeated San Francisco a few weeks ago was perhaps the exception rather than the norm.
Allen, whose record as the starter fell to 5-2 this season since replacing Cam Newton and 6-2 overall, showed the poise he lacked against the 49ers, the poise it will take down the stretch to remain a contender.
The schedule sets up nicely. The Panthers host the Atlanta Falcons (2-7) next week and then play the New Orleans Saints (7-2) before facing the Washington Redskins and the Falcons again — both at home. Even if they lose at New Orleans, they should be able to win three of the next four games to get to 8-5.
Then it’s a matter of winning two of their final three games: home against the Seattle Seahawks, at the Indianapolis Colts and home against the Saints.
They have a chance to get to 10-6, and they’ll likely need to in order to reach the playoffs.
Call it the silver lining in this loss.
Troubling trend: Panthers coach Ron Rivera faked a punt on fourth-and-4 from his own 36 last week against the Tennessee Titans when analytics said it was rare to do that with a 10-point lead. With 11:58 in the fourth quarter against Green Bay and needing an extra point to cut the lead to seven he went for two. Rivera tends to go more with feel than what analytics say, but in this situation the extra point seemed to make the most sense.
Biggest hole in the game plan: With starting cornerback James Bradberry (groin) out, the Panthers had nobody that could cover Davante Adams. The Green Bay wide receiver had seven catches for 118 yards. Donte Jackson tried to cover Adams, and made a good play to break up on a deep pass in the third quarter after he appeared beaten, but Adams made too many chunk plays to put the Packers in scoring position.
QB breakdown: Allen was playing arguably his best game through two and a half quarters, making sound decisions and showing escape ability similar to what Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers does on a regular basis. He had completed 11 of 13 pass attempts at halftime for 107 yards and a touchdown. Then on second-and-10 from the Green Bay 11 and trailing 21-10 in the second half he made the decision that likely cost Carolina a solid chance to win. He stepped up to avoid pressure and likely could have run for a first down to make it first-and-goal. Instead, he threw a pass that was tipped and then intercepted in the end zone. Still, a lot more positives than negatives for Allen.
Pivotal play: A questionable roughing the passer penalty in the end zone on Carolina defensive end Gerald McCoy with 4:21 left in the first half. McCoy saved a touchdown with an amazing tackle for a 3-yard loss on first-and-goal from the 1 to end the half, but the roughing penalty allowed Green Bay to burn off the remaining time. Had it not been called the Panthers would have had possession likely on the Packers’ side of the 50 with a chance to score at least a field goal, maybe a go-ahead touchdown. It also wore down the Carolina defense, which looked sluggish in allowing a touchdown on the first series of the second half.