CHARLOTTE – The return of QB Aaron Rodgers didn't go as hoped for the Packers, as the Panthers handed them a 31-24 defeat on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
Rodgers, coming back after missing seven games with a broken collarbone, had his first three-interception game in eight years, but he was trying to put together a valiant fourth-quarter comeback when it ended with a WR Geronimo Allison fumble inside the Carolina 30-yard line in the final two minutes.
Green Bay's defense struggled with Carolina QB Cam Newton and all of his weapons, as the Panthers QB threw four TD passes.
With the loss, the Packers dropped to 7-7 and in all likelihood saw their streak of eight consecutive postseason appearances come to an end. The Panthers improved to 10-4, right in the thick of the NFC wild-card picture and still in contention for the NFC South title.
Rodgers finished 26-of-45 for 290 yards with three TDs and the three INTs for a 71.5 passer rating. He also had 43 yards rushing on six attempts. RB Aaron Jones had 47 rushing yards on just three carries, while WR Randall Cobb led the receiving corps with seven catches for 84 yards and a score.
WR Davante Adams added five grabs for 57 yards and a TD before leaving with a concussion, which occurred on a blindside block by Panthers LB Thomas Davis on a Carolina interception return. TE Richard Rodgers had four catches for 77 yards and a TD.
For the Panthers, Newton was 20-of-31 for 242 yards with four TDs for a 128.0 rating. He added 58 yards rushing on 14 attempts. RB Christian McCaffrey piled up 135 yards from scrimmage (62 rushing, 73 receiving) with a TD, while TE Greg Olsen had nine grabs for 116 yards and a score.
Here's a recap of the action.
The Packers and Panthers traded TD drives in the first quarter and headed to the second tied at 7.
The Panthers won the toss and deferred. The Packers got one first down on a 12-yard pass from QB Aaron Rodgers to WR Davante Adams on the first play, but went three-and-out from there. Rodgers' third-down pass over the middle for WR Randall Cobb was broken up by a big hit from S Kurt Coleman, and Green Bay punted.
The Panthers got going on a 10-yard run by RB Christian McCaffrey and a 9-yard pass from QB Cam Newton to TE Greg Olsen. On third-and-9, Newton scrambled and got the first down by an inch or so, putting the ball near midfield. The on third-and-5, Newton hit McCaffrey on a wheel route out of the backfield for 20 yards to the Green Bay 24.
Newton hit McCaffrey again on third-and-2 for 9 yards, making it first-and-goal from the 9. On second down, Newton found McCaffrey yet again – the rookie's ninth touch on the drive – for a 7-yard TD reception. McCaffrey had 60 yards (20 rushing, 40 receiving) on the 85-yard drive that took 15 plays and 7:35 off the clock.
Rodgers began Green Bay's next drive with a 10-yard pass to Adams and a 23-yard pass to Cobb into Carolina territory. After a 7-yard scramble by Rodgers, RB Jamaal Williams ran for 9 yards and another first down. An 8-yard scramble by Rodgers set up third-and-2 from the 16, and Williams plowed ahead to convert.
Just before third-and-9 from the 13, the Packers called timeout, and then Rodgers found Adams wide open in the end zone to tie the game on the final play of the quarter.
A late touchdown on classic improvisation by QB Aaron Rodgers gave the Packers a 14-10 lead over the Panther.
Carolina began the second quarter with a 9-yard pass to RB Jonathan Stewart on a screen, and three straight runs by Stewart for 15 yards. The Packers then gave the Panthers a first down with back-to-back offside penalties on LB Clay Matthews and DT Kenny Clark before Newton hit Olsen for 14 yards to the Green Bay 28.
On third-and-5, Newton hit McCaffrey for 11 yards to the 12. LB Ahmad Brooks tackled Stewart for a 4-yard loss on second down, setting up third-and-14 from the 15, and Newton's pass for WR Devin Funchess was high. K Graham Gano was good from 33 yards out, and the Panthers led 10-7 with 9:02 left in the half.
Rodgers was intercepted on the second play of the next drive, as he tried to throw off-balance to Adams, and CB Daryl Worley picked it off. Carolina took over on its own 39, but Green Bay's defense responded with a three-and-out, and the Panthers punted.
From his own 10, Rodgers hit Adams for 9 yards, and then RB Aaron Jones scooted through a hole for 23 yards to the Green Bay 42. Jones broke off another run for 20, but Rodgers threw incomplete to Allison on third-and-9 from the Carolina 37. The Packers tried to draw the Panthers offside and took a delay of game before punting. P Justin Vogel's punt was downed at the Carolina 5.
On third-and-7, Newton scrambled for the first down, barely reaching the marker. On the ensuing third-and-9, LB Blake Martinez nearly intercepted a pass over the middle for McCaffrey, and the Panthers punted. After a 13-yard return by WR Trevor Davis, the Packers took over on their own 42 with 1:55 left in the half.
Rodgers hit Adams for 13 and TE Richard Rodgers for 9 to start the drive. After Williams plowed ahead for 3 and a first down, a scrambling Rodgers flipped the ball to Cobb, who dodged tacklers all the way for a 33-yard touchdown with 26 seconds left. K Mason Crosby's PAT put the Packers up, 14-10.
The Panthers started the second half with a 19-yard pass to Funchess, and the Packers gave up a first down on third-and-4 when DT Mike Daniels jumped offside. After consecutive 5-yard runs by McCaffrey and Newton, the QB found a wide-open Olsen behind the defense for a 30-yard TD, and the Panthers were back in front.
On the second play of the ensuing drive, Rodgers tried to go deep over the middle to Cobb, but it was underthrown and picked off by S Colin Jones. Panthers LB Thomas Davis threw an illegal blindside block on Adams on the return, and Adams was slow to get up. After the penalty, Carolina took over at midfield.
Newton hit Olsen for 12 yards and then ran for 8 more before RB Fozzy Whittaker picked up the first down at the Green Bay 26. A 10-yard pass to Olsen put the ball in the red zone, and CB Damarious Randall broke up a pass to Funchess in the end zone, setting up third-and-6 from the 12. S Jermaine Whitehead interfered with WR Russell Shepard, giving the Panthers first-and-goal from the 9.
On the next play, Newton's pass to the back of the end zone for WR Damiere Byrd between two defenders was deflected and caught by Byrd but initially ruled incomplete, out of bounds. The Panthers challenged, and upon review, it was ruled Byrd's backside apparently came down in bounds before he rolled onto the end zone, giving Carolina the touchdown. Gano's PAT made it 24-14 Panthers with 7:20 left in the quarter.
Rodgers was intercepted for a third time, this time on third-and-10 as he tried to go deep to WR Jordy Nelson. Again, the pass was underthrown, and CB James Bradberry hauled it in at the Carolina 26.
Green Bay's defense responded with a three-and-out, though, as Clark sacked Newton on third down, and the Panthers punted.
The Packers got a first down on an 8-yard run by Williams and a 5-yard pass to Nelson. A 9-yard pass to WR Geronimo Allison set up third0-and-1 from the Carolina 35, but Williams was stopped for no gain on an outside pitch. Rodgers ran a read-option keeper on fourth down to move the chains.
Rodgers scrambled 12 yards for a first down on the 16, and a 6-yard pass to Allison set up third-and-4 from the 10, but Rodgers pass for Allison bounced short. Crosby was good from 28 yards out, and the Packers pulled within 24-17 with 1:23 left in the period.
The Packers' fourth offside penalty of the game started Carolina's next drive, and then Newton hit Olsen for 20 yards, followed by a 15-yard run by McCaffrey to the Green Bay 35.
A 7-yard pass to Olsen for a first down at the Green Bay 25 started the final period. On third-and-8 from the 23, Newton found Olsen again for 10 yards to the 13. On the next snap, he hit Byrd on a slant for the touchdown between CB Josh Hawkins and S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and the Panthers led 31-17 with 12:24 left.
Passes of 4 yards to Cobb and 6 yards to Jones picked up one first down. After a 7-yard sack, Rodgers hit Nelson for 17 yards and another first down. Jones ran for 4 and Rodgers scrambled for 8 for a first down on the Carolina 43. An incomplete pass to Cobb on third down brought up fourth-and-5 from the 38, and the Packers went for it. Rodgers scrambled out of the pocket and hit Cobb for 12 yards to stay alive.
On the next third down, Rodgers was sacked for a 9-yard loss, bringing up fourth-and-14 from the 30. Rodgers was sacked again, this time by DEs Julius Peppers and Mario Addison, and the Packers turned the ball over on downs with 5:41 left.
The Packers got it back again and Rodgers hit TE Richard Rodgers for 35 yards to the Carolina 35. Cobb picked up 9 on a swing pass, and Williams moved the chains. Rodgers then hit Rodgers again for a 24-yard touchdown right down the middle, and the Packers were within 31-24 with 2:43 left, but with no timeouts.
McCaffrey failed to recover Green Bay's onside kick, and Packers S Marwin Evans recovered at the Green Bay 48.
Rodgers hit Rodgers for 8 yards, and a toss to Nelson picked up 6 more at the two-minute warning. Allison caught a slant over the middle and fumbled, the ball getting punched out by Bradberry. S Mike Adams recovered for Carolina with 1:48 left, and the turnover stood upon replay review.