|Carolina Panthers embrace process, even with nothing major to play for|
|Goal is building a winning foundation for the future|
|Published Tuesday, December 29, 2020|
|PHOTO | ASSOCIATED PRESS|
|Carolina Panthers defensive end Marquis Haynes (98) strips Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins of the ball in the Panthers’ 20-13 win Sunday in Landover, Maryland.|
A strong first half was all Carolina needed to beat Washington 20-13 Sunday in Landover, Maryland to break a three-game losing streak in which the Panthers tapped into what’s worked well. They forced four turnovers before intermission and succeed in every phase. Even at 5-10 and nothing to gain by winning, they showed attitude and execution that can be built upon.
“To me, it’s how most teams win in December,” coach Matt Rhule said. “Lots of things happen early in the year, but the good teams in December, they run the football, they play defense, they take the ball away. We’re not perfect in those areas but I think that we’re a team, I hope has a plan, and everyone tries to complement each other.”
Carolina, which hosts New Orleans Jan. 3 in the Panthers’ season finale, certainly hasn’t quit, a testament to Rhule’s insistence on playing hard. The Panthers, who improved to 3-8 in one-possession games, they’re competing. Against Washington, they pounded the ball with a persistent ground attack and took it away from Washington, which needed a win to wrap up the NFC East title.
“Sometimes, when teams as people say, ‘have nothing to play for,’ we have a lot to play for,” said receiver Curtis Samuel, who totaled a career-best 157 scrimmage yards (106 receiving).” We are going to go out there each and every week and play as hard as we can. Playoffs or no playoffs, that doesn’t really matter.
“Our pride – we know how good we can be, we are going to go out there and play each and every week. We are going to all come together as brothers, as we know we are, and just put it all together in all phases of the game.”
The Panthers were good at situational football, scoring on Brandon Zylstra’s recovery of a Washington muffed punt, Mike Davis’s 1-yard plunge and Robbie Anderson’s 14-yard catch in the first half to seize a 20-3 lead. The defense was stellar, forcing Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins into a pair of interceptions and 14-of-28 passing for 154 yards and a rating of 36.9. Carolina hasn’t been flashy, but they’ve persevered through a season of adversity.
“It’s really when it gets cold and the season gets long, coach Rhule being a tough guy, that’s when he’s going to judge his tough guys,” cornerback Donte Jackson said. “That’s when he’s going to come out and he’s going to see who’s still fighting ‘til the end. I’m a guy – and a lot of guys on the team are the same – who is going to fight until they lock us out of the building and that’s just what it is.
“We came out here and we knew – put the season behind us, put the record behind us, put all the close game losses behind us and just come out here and play playoff football.”
Said quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who hit 19-of-28 passes for 197 yards and a score: “It just says that this is a team of selfless individuals. Guys have been banged up all year – it’s the game of football, it happens – but you look at Brian Burns, here’s a guy who no one thought was going to play and then he shows up, he goes out there and he makes plays like he does. Zach Kerr flying around, even John Miller up front, different guys have just been fighting through different things and it’s great to just win and reward those guys.”
Even with a season of near-misses and blown opportunities, Carolina is playing with more intensity than the 2019 team that went 4-12 with an eight-game losing streak to close. It isn’t lost on safety Tre Boston, who snagged an interception against Washington.
“I think when you take a whole brand new staff, you have a whole brand new team, brand-new schemes, you can see us building throughout the season,” he said. “We’ve had good games – specifically on defense – we’ve had shut outs of the Lions, we’ve had first half of Vikings, we’ve had second half of the Packers, and it’s about putting it together each and every snap. It’s about guys trusting the process, guys doing their one-eleventh and you’re seeing that. Down the stretch, we asked more of that. We asked guys to hold themselves accountable to doing their job and you see that.”
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