Panthers offense on Eagles’ fourth-quarter collapse: ‘They got comfortable. They got too relaxed’
How did the Eagles manage to blow a 17-point fourth-quarter lead to the Panthers? Here's the way the collapse looked from the other sideline.
Having spent last season as a member of the Eagles, Torrey Smith had a greater appreciation for what his new team did to his old team in the fourth quarter Sunday than the rest of his Carolina Panthers teammates.
"I know firsthand how tough that defense is," the wide receiver said after his team scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to beat the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, 21-17. "To be able to pull off what we did in the fourth quarter, that's pretty impressive."
For three quarters, the Panthers offense could do virtually nothing against the Eagles. They had seven first downs and 145 total yards and zero points in the first 45 minutes.
Cam Newton had completed 9 of 17 passes for just 68 yards. Sixty-eight yards! The Panthers had converted just 1 of 6 third-down opportunities.
Then, just like that, everything changed. It was like somebody hit a switch.
"They got comfortable," said wide receiver Jarius Wright. "They got too relaxed.
"They dropped back in coverage. They stopped playing us some of the same coverages they had been playing. They relaxed on us.
"That's not a smart thing to do against us. Because we're a resilient team. We don't give up."
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Last week, the Panthers fell behind the Redskins, 17-0, and battled back to within three before losing, 23-17.
This time, they didn't come up short. They scored on three straight fourth-quarter possessions to pull out a shocking four-point win.
"What we just did," said tight end Greg Olsen, "we didn't win the Super Bowl. But we just came back from 17 down on the road to the world champs and one of the top defenses in the league. That's pretty hard to do."
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Newton turned the fourth quarter into a nine-on-seven passing drill. He completed 16 of 22 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns. He completed those 16 passes to seven different receivers.
The Panthers converted 4 of 5 third-down opportunities on their final three possessions and racked up 12 first downs.
"It wasn't magic," Newton said. "We just stayed in rhythm. Outside of that fourth-and-10, that was probably the only play where we were desperate for some type of movement in the fourth quarter.
"We were methodical, moving the chains and just being persistent. Everybody just really had their heads into making big plays [in the fourth quarter]."
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The fourth-and-10 Newton referred to came on the Panthers' third and final scoring drive, after they had closed to within three with 4 minutes, 8 seconds left.
They got the ball back on their own 31 with a little more than two minutes left. Consecutive incompletions to Olsen, Devin Funchess, and Imhotep Charter graduate D.J. Moore left the Panthers with one last opportunity to make a first down.
For one of the few times in the fourth quarter, the Eagles got pressure on Newton. But just as he was getting hit by defensive end Michael Bennett, Newton found Smith wide open in the middle of the field when cornerback Jalen Mills slipped.
Smith then turned what should have been an 11- or 12-yard completion into a 35-yard gain when Dexter McDougle, the newest addition to the Eagles' injury-ravaged secondary, took a bad angle and let Smith get to the outside and down the sideline.
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"I was running an inside dig route,'' Smith said. "I kind of thought Cam was pulling up. I kind of knew it wouldn't be on time.
"So I was just stopping to get a feel for where he was, because I was going to break out if he had to scramble. But he ended up getting it off. I guess Jalen must've slipped and Cam saw it. I don't know how he got it off, but he did.
"I knew the two-minute warning was coming up. So I didn't have to try to run out of bounds. I knew if I caught it, I might have a chance for some more yards. I just tried to cut up the field and help get us into field goal range."
The Panthers didn't need a game-tying field goal. Six plays after Smith's big catch, Newton hit a ridiculously wide-open Olsen in the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown to put them ahead.
"It was pretty easy," Olsen said of his TD catch. "I didn't really have to do a whole lot. That was our play call all week.
"We talked all week about how that was going to be our first goal-line call. When Cam got tackled at the 1 on the play before that, we all knew what was coming.
"We were going to go hard-sell play-action right at them. Send the fullback [into the line]. Everybody going at the right side. Make contact with the end. Then you just have to get out and clear out without them holding you or anything. It was pretty simple."
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Too simple. It appeared that Eagles linebacker LaRoy Reynolds was responsible for Olsen. But he bought completely into the play-action. By the time he realized what was happening, he had no chance to recover and get to Olsen.
"You had every receiver contributing to this in the fourth quarter," Smith said. "We just made the plays.
"Cam was doing a great job of communicating. There were things he was giving us that he saw earlier in the game."
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