‘Dang It!’ - Five Games the 2011 Carolina Panthers Should Have Won: Fan’s Analysis

The Carolina Panthers finished the 2011 NFL season with a 6-10 record. Well, at least in this universe they did. In an alternate universe the Panthers finished 11-5 as they eliminated two killer plays from five close games they lost but could have just as easily won. This is the upside of this parallel universe for Panthers fans like me. The downside? The alternate universe where the Panthers finished 11-5 is controlled by hostile, giant man-eating scorpions and Slurpees were never invented, so there are some disadvantages to the Panthers picking up five more victories.

Here is my analysis as a Panthers fan of five games the 2011 Panthers could have - nay, should have won - by eliminating just two killer plays in each contest:

Week 1: Carolina 28, Arizona 21

Killer Play #1 - Carolina led 21-14 entering the fourth quarter. With 11:02 remaining Arizona faced a 3rd-and-7 from their own 30 when Kevin Kolb hit Early Doucet for a 7-yard quick slant down the middle. Carolina big-blitzed on the play with both linebackers, leaving a huge void in he middle of the field. Doucet took the short pass and sprinted 70-yards for the game-tying touchdown.

Killer Play #2 - With the score tied 21-21 with 7:36 remaining in the game, Carolina punted to Arizona rookie Patrick Peterson. Peterson fielded the ball at the 11 as two of Carolina's "gunners" overran the play. Peterson cut right, bounced off two arm tackles, found a seam down the right sideline, and took the ball 89-yards to the end zone. The 28-21 score would prove to be the final margin after the Panthers offense was stopped on the Arizona 2 yard line with 1:14 left in the game.

Week 4: Carolina 29, Chicago 34

Killer Play #1 - Early in the second quarter the Panthers trailed 10-17 and were forced to punt from their own 25 yard line. While I have never seen an official NFL special teams game plan, my assumption is that it looks something like this when teams play the Chicago Bears: "DO NOT PUNT TO DEVIN HESTER!!!!!!" followed by several skull-and-crossbones drawings. Rather than punting out of bounds, the Panthers allowed a killer punt return touchdown to the most dangerous return man in NFL history.

Killer Play #2 - The Panthers had closed the Bears' lead and trailed 23-24 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Following a Charles Godfrey interception the Panthers took possession at the Chicago 29, and a go-ahead field goal or touchdown should have resulted. But on 2nd-and-10 the offense lined up in an unorthodox wildcat formation with tackle Travelle Wharton at the end of an unbalanced line. Wharton did not report as an eligible receiver and was given a five-yard penalty, moving the Panthers back to the Chicago 34. The drive ended with Olindo Mare missing a 52-yard field goal and the Panthers could never make up the difference.

Week 5: Carolina 27, New Orleans 30

Killer Play #1 - With mere seconds left in the first half, Carolina trailed 13-17. New Orleans had the ball on the Carolina 28 yard line but were out of timeouts and the clock was about to expire as the Saints rushed to get their field goal until on to the field. There was not enough time left for the Saints to attempt a field goal, but Carolina head coach Ron Rivera inexplicably called a timeout with :02 remaining. The timeout gave the Saints enough time to connect on a long John Kasay field goal, pushing the Saints' lead to 20-13 at the half. Coach Rivera later explained that he feared the Panthers would be penalized for possibly having twelve men on the field, but the coaching blunder had a huge impact on the outcome.

Killer Play #2 - With less than a minute left in the game Carolina trailed 27-30 and were hurrying to get into field goal position and had driven to the New Orleans 49 yard line. But with :27 remaining Jordan Gross was flagged for a holding penalty, pushing the ball back to the Carolina 41, killing both the drive and the Panthers hope to force overtime.

Week 6: Carolina 17, Atlanta 31

Killer Plays #1A & #1B - Near the end of the first quarter the Panthers held a 3-0 lead. Atlanta had the ball on the Carolina 38 and threw deep into the end zone for Roddy White. Safety Charles Godfrey was flagged for a pass interference, moving the ball to the Carolina 1 and a touchdown on the next play. Later, in the second quarter, the Panthers led 10-7 with Atlanta having driven down to the Carolina 17. Once again the Panthers were flagged for an end zone interference covering Roddy White, this time on Chris Gamble. The ball was moved to the 1 and resulted in another Atlanta touchdown.

Killer Play #2 - The score was tied 17-17 with 9:29 left in the game. Atlanta had the ball on the Carolina 47 and faced a long 3rd-and-12. Captain Munnerlyn was lined up in coverage against wide receiver Harry Douglas. Munnerlyn guessed Douglas would run an "in" route, but the Falcons receiver broke out toward the sideline and caught the ball with Munnerlyn out of position. Douglas gained picked up 34 yards on the play, extending a drive that ended with the Falcons go-ahead-for-good touchdown and another squandered game for the Panthers.

Week 8: Carolina 21, Minnesota 24

Killer Play #1 - The Panthers led 14-7 near the end of the first half and were driving to get into field goal position. With 1:15 remaining Carolina had the ball on their own 42 when Cam Newton dropped back to pass. Panthers tackle Jordan Gross was beaten by DE Jared Allen who strip-sacked Newton and the Vikings recovered the loose ball. Two plays later the Vikings scored a touchdown to tie that game at 14-14 going into half time.

Killer Play #2 - The Panthers trailed 21-24 with the ball late in the fourth quarter. With 1:09 left Carolina faced a long 4th-and-15 when Cam Newton hit Brandon LaFell on a deep route and LaFell rumbled for a 44-yard gain, putting the Panthers in position to tie with a field goal. But with :29 remaining, kicker Olindo Mare absolutely shanked an easy 31-yard field goal, preventing overtime as the Panthers lost another winnable game.

Andrew Sweat is a Carolina resident and loyal Panthers fan: More from this author:

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Updated Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012