The Carolina Panthers’ (4-7) slim playoff hopes suffered another setback Sunday after the reigning NFC champions lost 35-32 to the Oakland Raiders (9-2) in the Oakland Coliseum.
The Raiders, meanwhile, can celebrate their first winning season since they reached Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002.
The Bay Area News Group’s Marcus Thompson found positives and negatives from the game for Oakland:
Bad news: Raiders’ defense blow leads like crazy
Good news: Raiders really perform well in tight ballgames
— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) November 28, 2016
Derek Carr burnished his MVP resume in the win. He battled a finger injury on his right hand yet threw for 315 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on 26-of-38 passing. According to Elias Sports (via ESPN Stats & Info), Carr is the first Raiders QB to have at least five game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in one season.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 28, 2016
Cam Newton overcame a shaky start to go 14-of-29 for 246 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for six yards and a touchdown on three carries.
Football Outsiders’ Cian Fahey provided a silver lining for the 2015 MVP in the defeat:
CAM NEWTON GOT A ROUGHING THE PASSER PENALTY.
— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) November 27, 2016
According to ESPN.com’s David Newton, it was the first time since 2014 the Panthers QB benefited from a roughing the passer penalty.
After the first half, it looked like Oakland would cruise to its fifth straight victory. The score was tied 7-7 following the opening quarter courtesy of a two-yard touchdown reception by Seth Roberts and a three-yard touchdown run by Newton. The Raiders then scored 17 unanswered points to go ahead 24-7 at halftime.
Latavius Murray put Oakland back into the lead with a four-yard touchdown run with 12:48 left in the quarter, and Sebastian Janikowski followed up with a 23-yard field goal at the 6:49 mark to make it a two-score game.
With 59 seconds remaining, an attempted screen pass to Fozzy Whittaker went horribly awry. Newton faked a throw to the right and turned to his left to hit Whittaker. His pass found the hands of Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack, who read the play perfectly and returned the interception nine yards for a touchdown.
The NFL shared a replay of the score:
Former Raiders star Charles Woodson wanted to make sure fans didn’t miss Mack’s pick-six:
— Charles Woodson (@cwoodson24) November 27, 2016
ESPN Stats & Info provided a connection between Woodson and Mack:
Khalil Mack had an INT, sack, FF, FR and TD. He’s the 1st player since Charles Woodson in 2009 to do all 5 of those things in same game. pic.twitter.com/XI8DS22Bqb
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 28, 2016
Shortly after the second half began, Carr fumbled on the opening drive, and Thomas Davis recovered to give the Panthers the ball at the Raiders’ 30-yard line.
Six plays later, Jonathan Stewart scored on a one-yard touchdown run. Graham Gano’s extra point attempt was blocked, leaving Carolina down 24-13 with 10:33 in the third quarter. Making matters worse, the MMQB’s Albert Breer reported Carr suffered a finger injury on the play and headed to the locker room for a short time.
Carr returned to the game wearing a glove on his right hand. NFL.com’s Kevin Patra posted a photo of Carr as he was warming up on the sideline:
— Kevin Patra (@kpatra) November 27, 2016
By the time Carr came back, the Panthers had trimmed the deficit to five points. Ted Ginn Jr. got a step on Raiders cornerback T.J. Carrie and caught a perfect pass from Newton over the top of the secondary for an 88-yard touchdown.
The NFL offered a second look at the play:
— NFL (@NFL) November 27, 2016
Max Henson of the Panthers’ official website and CBSSports.com’s Jason La Canfora tweeted how the touchdown came out of nowhere:
Newton to Ginn = 88-yard TD. Panthers had 18 passing yards prior to that play.
— Max Henson (@PanthersMax) November 27, 2016
Cam hadn’t completed a pass in 70 minutes and then hit an 88 yard bomb to Ted Ginn
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) November 27, 2016
With a three-yard touchdown run at the 1:46 mark of the third quarter, Stewart gave the Panthers their first lead of the game. Carolina’s two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving the team up a point, 25-24 heading into the final quarter.
Kelvin Benjamin increased the Panthers’ advantage with a 44-yard touchdown catch with 13:26 left in the game.
The Raiders answered back, though with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Carr to Clive Walford with 8:37 left on the clock. Raiders defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., who remains on injured reserve, tweeted his excitement with the score:
— Mario Edwards Jr (@MLEJ_15FSU) November 28, 2016
Oakland tied the game after it successfully completed the two-point conversion.
NFL Network’s Rich Eisen was enjoying the back-and-forth action:
Great old-school late-season prize fight breaking out in Oakland right now.
— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) November 28, 2016
After forcing the Panthers to punt, the Raiders went on a 12-play, 82-yard drive that ate 3:20 off the clock. Janikowski capped off the possession with a 23-yard field goal with 1:45 remaining to put his team up three points.
Carolina moved into Oakland territory on the ensuing drive but stalled at the Raiders’ 44-yard line. Newton threw three straight incomplete passes, and on 4th-and-10, he fumbled after getting sacked by Mack. Mack recovered to seal the victory.
This game was a major test of the Raiders’ mettle, and they did well to come back after throwing away the lead. Carr’s injury could’ve been a turning point in the game, but Oakland battled back and proved once again it’s among the best teams in the league.
The door hasn’t completely shut on the Panthers getting back to the postseason to defend their conference title, but their margin for error is extremely small over the next five weeks. Carolina’s schedule won’t help.
A divisional round rematch awaits the Panthers in Week 13 as they play the Seattle Seahawks. Matchups against the Washington Redskins and Atlanta Falcons are ahead as well, casing further doubt on whether Carolina can secure a wild-card spot in the NFC.