Despite valiant comeback effort, Michigan Panthers fall short in 24-20 loss to New Orleans

The Michigan Panthers traveled to Birmingham, Alabama, on Sunday to play the New Orleans Breakers? OK then.

The Panthers fell short in an attempt to rally from a 21-point deficit, losing 24-20 to New Orleans. It's their first loss of the year away from Ford Field (the Panthers had four straight games in Detroit and lost them all, and also won in Canton, Ohio, twice and Memphis, Tennessee, once).

Both offenses struggled to score early, with a scoreless first quarter that featured a fumble, multiple punts and a missed field goal.

Michigan Panthers coach Mike Nolan on the sidelines during the Panthers' 28-13 loss to the Generals on Sunday, April 30, 2023, at Ford Field.
Michigan Panthers coach Mike Nolan on the sidelines during the Panthers' 28-13 loss to the Generals on Sunday, April 30, 2023, at Ford Field.

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Early in the second, however, the Breakers opened the scoring with a punch-in touchdown from the 1 by Wes Hills, set up by an impressive play by wide receiver Jonathan Adams.

Scoring the first touchdown proved to be a jumpstart for the Breakers' offense; quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson systematically picked apart the Panthers' defense with a pair of touchdown drives, lasing 11 plays and four plays, respectively.

Just when all looked lost, the Panthers got some breaks. With under two minutes to go in the first half, Panthers tight end Marcus Baugh caught a pass and miraculously stayed on his feet as two defenders crashed into him at the same time, eventually walking into the end zone to make it 21-7.

Seconds later, Panthers safety Warren Saba perfectly read the eyes of Bethel-Thompson and intercepted a pass over the middle of the field. The Panthers finished the drive with a field goal, making it 21-10.

Before the interception leading up to halftime, the Breakers' offense looked unstoppable. But in the Breakers' first drive of the second half, Bethel-Thompson threw another interception, a tipped pass off a too-high pass. On the first play after the interception, Panthers quarterback Josh Love took a shot at the end zone and delivered a beautiful pass to Trey Quinn, making it 21-17.

The Breakers responded after the back-to-back costly errors and put together a 14-play drive, but the Panthers' defense stiffened and forced a field goal, making it 24-17.

The Panthers responded with a field-goal drive of their own in the fourth, but it came with a price: When they rushed up to the line on fourth-and-1, the Breakers didn't jump and the Panthers had to call their final timeout with 11:06 remaining.

On the next possession, the Panthers got another short-yardage stop on defense to regain the ball back near the 50. But after some chunk plays, the Breakers began blitzing, forcing a sack, a fumble and eventually a punt.

The Breakers got the ball back with 4:01 to play and picked up one first down. The Panthers didn't have any timeouts, so even though the Breakers had to punt, they were able to milk the clock and the Panthers got the ball back with 31 seconds left.

On the first play of the last-ditch drive, Love threw a check-down pass and AJ Richardson was tackled in-bounds. Love's Hail Mary attempt with 3 seconds remaining was picked off to end the comeback hopes.

With the loss, the Panthers fell to 3-5 and are a game behind the Philadelphia Stars in the North Division. Next up, the Panthers will head back to Canton, Ohio, to take on the Pittsburgh Maulers in the penultimate game of the season at noon Saturday. The Panthers and Stars then face each other in the season finale on June 18 at Ford Field. (Both teams call Detroit home, but the Panthers will be the home team.)

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan Panthers lose, 24-20, after big comeback against New Orleans