CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Matt Rhule believes so strongly that the Carolina Panthers should be winning instead of rebuilding that the first-year NFL coach isn’t making any excuses, even if it means criticizing his quarterback after a nearly flawless effort.
That left kicker Joey Slye, who spent the week quarantined on the NFL’s COVID-19 list, attempting what would have been an NFL-record 65-yard field goal.
It fell inches short of the crossbar.
“We can’t take a sack there, no matter who it is, whether it is the offensive line, the receiver or whoever," Rhule said after Carolina suffered its second straight loss and fell to 3-4. “We just can’t take a sack. That is, only thing that couldn’t have happened there is that.
“Regardless of what happens, Teddy can’t take that sack. The offensive line can’t allow that sack. It just can’t happen.”
While the real-time replay showed the pocket collapsing fast around Bridgewater, he had time to get rid of the ball. According to Next Gen Stats data, the 5.02 seconds it took Marcus Davenport to sack Bridgewater was the fifth-longest time it took to sack the Carolina quarterback this season.
The 8-yard loss on third-and-11 prompted Rhule to send Slye out to kick a field goal 1 yard longer than the NFL-record 64-yarder the Broncos' Matt Prater made in 2013 in the thin air of Denver. Rhule believed Slye had better odds of converting the kick than Bridgewater did of converting a first down.
According to ESPN’s win probability formula, that was incorrect.
The probability of making that field goal was 2.4%, and the probability of Carolina winning with the kick was 7.5%.
The probability of converting fourth-and-19 was 8.1%, and the win probability of going for it was 10%.
Interestingly, Bridgewater never took responsibility for the sack, his only one on a day when he completed 23 of 28 pass attempts for 254 yards and two touchdowns for a season-high 128.3 passer rating.
“We had the perfect playcall," Bridgewater said. “Probably would’ve scored a touchdown if we got it off, but they schemed up that protection that we had called well and I really had nowhere to throw the ball.
“As I tried to step up, I was going to throw it away, but there were no outlets for me to just dirt it."
Wide receiver Curtis Samuel had 1-on-1 coverage with the cornerback and inside position toward the middle of the field. Unfortunately for Bridgewater, Davenport came in untouched with only running back Mike Davis to block him.
But the Panthers' loss didn’t come down to one sack or one missed field goal. What has to be fixed before the Panthers face Atlanta on Thursday night is a defense that allowed the Saints to convert 12 of 14 third-down conversions.
The 85.7% conversion rate was the highest allowed in team history. The Panthers came into the game ranked 29th in the NFL in third-down defense.
Atlanta, despite falling to 1-6 with another last-second loss on Sunday, still is dangerous. The Panthers, who beat the Falcons 23-16 three weeks ago, can’t afford to fall further behind Tampa Bay (5-2) and New Orleans (4-2) in the NFC South.
On that, Rhule and Bridgewater would agree.
“You’ve got to be able to turn the page fast in this league," Bridgewater said. “We’ve got an Atlanta team coming into town that I’m pretty sure after we played them, they felt the same way, that they may have been one or two plays away from tying the game or beating us."