Carolina Panthers

Christian McCaffrey looked great, but what went wrong in Panthers loss to Rams?

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L.A. Rams at Carolina Panthers

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To beat a team as good as the Los Angeles Rams, you’re going to need to play very close to mistake-free football.

The Panthers couldn’t do that Sunday, losing 30-27 to the defending NFC champions on a muggy, somewhat exciting but ultimately disappointing day in Charlotte.

Carolina turned the ball over twice in the first half — one on a fumble by wide receiver DJ Moore and another on a backward pass from Cam Newton toward Moore that was tipped and never got there before the Rams recovered it.

Add that to a litany of other mistakes — including a late Newton interception — and the Panthers never led in what was their eighth loss in their past nine regular-season games. Carolina (0-1) does at least have a chance to even its record quickly. The Panthers host Tampa Bay on Thursday night.

The Panthers played catch-up and played it well after falling behind 13-0 in the second quarter, but the deficit was too much to make up in the NFL season opener for both teams.

There were some very good plays that came from all three units for Carolina: Jermaine Carter Jr.’s punt block, James Bradberry’s acrobatic interception and Christian McCaffrey’s two rushing touchdowns among them.

But it still wasn’t enough. The Panthers’ best chance came when they got the ball back down only three points, 23-20, midway through the fourth quarter. But they went three-and-out after a Cam Newton overthrow of Curtis Samuel, and the Rams then rammed in a touchdown to make it 30-20. Newton threw a bad interception to Rams linebacker Cory Littleton on the next possession, and the Panthers were running out of time..

A late drive by Carolina, fueled by some sensational running by McCaffrey, pulled Carolina to within 30-27 on an Alex Armah 1-yard TD with 1:58 to go. Joey Slye’s onsides kick was recovered by the Rams, however, and Los Angeles ran out the clock with one first down.

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Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) jumps and greets running back Christian McCaffrey (22) on the field during pregame. McCaffrey would end up with 209 total yards and two touchdowns in Carolina’s 30-27 loss. David T. Foster III

Some quick thoughts on the game:

The best thing the Panthers had going for them offensively was McCaffrey. The tailback was Carolina’s most reliable running and pass-catching threat, combining for 209 total yards and scoring from 8 and 2 yards out. He was spectacular both in real life and for all his fantasy football owners. “No matter what time of the game it is, he always seems fresh,” Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said of McCaffrey.

The Rams alternated their tailbacks to good effect. Starter Todd Gurley (97 rushing yards) had some nice moments, particularly in the fourth quarter, and Rams backup tailback Malcolm Brown scored twice on a rush-oriented day when neither Newton nor Jared Goff threw a touchdown pass for the first three quarters.

Panthers kicker Slye scored his first NFL points Sunday and was about even for the game with the Rams’ Greg (the Leg) Zuerlein. Slye made kicks from 46 and 52 yards but missed from 53; Zuerlein hit from 56, 49 and 27 but had a late miss from 41 and wasn’t as effective on his kickoffs. Slye said he was disappointed about his onsides kick, which he wanted to take a high bounce but which instead took a short hop right to the Rams’ Robert Woods.

Coolest thing from pregame: The Panthers honored their superfan, Greg “Catman” Good, by having former Carolina wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad bang the “Keep Pounding” drum in a Catman No. 87 jersey.

Good, who died in July at age 62, was famous for his electric blue wig and his frequent appearances during Panthers’ TV broadcasts from Section 104. Muhammad was his favorite player, and Good routinely wore Muhammad’s jersey as part of his costume.

Former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad was the honoree to hit the Keep Pounding drum prior to the team’s game against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, September 8, 2019 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. Muhammad wore a jersey that read “Catman” in honor of former Panthers superfan, Greg “Catman” Good, who died in July 2019. Jeff Siner

One of the game’s scarier moments came when McCaffrey tried to hurdle Rams veteran safety Eric Weddle in the second quarter. Weddle stayed low and caught McCaffrey’s knee in the earhole of his helmet. He ended up leaving the game for good, rolling away on a cart with a head laceration and a potential concussion.

Panthers rookie defensive end Brian Burns had an active day as a pass rusher, although he wasn’t credited with any sacks. “I left some plays out there,” said Burns, who did deflect a Rams punt that only went seven yards. Defensive tackle Kawann Short also got some good push up the middle, once leading to two hits of Goff in a row.