This wasn't a big play so much as the culmination of a costly drive allowed by the Rams defense. The Rams had just trimmed the lead to 20-12 and a stop would have given them a chance to tie the game. Instead, the Panthers drove 72 yards for a touchdown and finished it off.
On the play, the Rams were in nickel defense with safety Matt Giordano playing as the single safety up high. The Panthers had three receivers split wide to Newton's left and tight end Greg Olsen standing up off the line on the right side.
Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins played press coverage against Smith. At the snap, Jenkins attempted to jam Smith but didn't do much to slow down Smith, who darted to the right side with the rest of the routes moving the opposite direction.
The Rams pass rush got good push as blitzing linebacker Alec Ogletree and end Robert Quinn nearly got to Newton for the sack but forced him to struggle with a follow-through. The result was something of a wounded duck that floated on Newton but actually worked to Carolina's advantage.
Smith had to come back for the ball, and as he did, Jenkins was unable to keep his feet to make the tackle. Giordano whiffed on a possible tackle and Smith waltzed into the end zone to put the nail in the Rams' coffin.
Hidden Play: With 11:21 to go in the third quarter, Rams end Chris Long received an encroachment penalty to give Carolina a first down at the Rams' 39.
We won't get into personnel and alignments here but this was actually a big play for multiple reasons and not just because the Panthers got a first down out of it.
First and foremost, it was an awful call. Carolina right guard Chris Scott clearly committed a false start to draw Long and defensive tackle Michael Brockers offsides. Scott really didn't even try to get back into position to mask it.
Once again, the officials missed an easy, obvious call.
The next part of the equation is the fall out from the play. One could argue that it was this play, not the one where Quinn hits Newton that set in motion the sequence culminating in Long's ejection.
Long was clearly and reasonably frustrated by the call. On the next play, he dropped Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams for a loss of 4. The next play was the one that set off the melee and resulted in Long's ejection from punching, you guessed it, Scott.
It's not hard to connect the dots of frustration for Long there. That doesn't mean he was right to do what he did, and he's the first to say as much, but you have to wonder if there was some carry over from the encroachment call to the ejection.
Here's our weekly update on Quinn: he's still playing at an extremely high level. I believe he's the Rams best player right now regardless of position. He's even playing the run well. Check out the defense's opening sequence when he tackles Williams for a loss of 1 and then brings down Newton for a sack.
Long was also playing quite well in this one before his ejection. He actually teed up Quinn for the aforementioned sack and spent plenty of time buzzing around Newton in the backfield.
Mentioned it after the game and the tape confirmed it, but a really strong job by the Rams run defense in this one. Much more discipline, better tackling, guys being in the right place. Safety Darian Stewart even looked much better in that regard.
Tough day at the office for cornerback Trumaine Johnson whom the Panthers targeted plenty. Making things worse was a silly defensive holding penalty he earned as a result of peeking into the backfield, which led to him clutching and grabbing to make up for it. In fairness, Johnson did do a solid job in run support.
Jenkins didn't fare much better in coverage. Newton had just two incompletions. While most of those completed passes didn't go for big gains, the Rams must find a way to defend the pass better. Being more aggressive might be one way. There have been signs of that in recent weeks but the Rams were more content to play soft in coverage this week it seemed.
On special teams, the Rams gave Tavon Austin a chance to return kicks. He only got two attempts but he showed some signs of being a weapon in that spot. On one he didn't hit the seam at full speed as he should, but a bit more experience and he could make a difference there.
He's not getting much credit because he's doing it quietly, but kicker Greg Zuerlein deserves a tip of the cap for his consistency.