Things didn’t start out well for Houston. They won the toss and elected to receive, but on the 3rd play of the initial drive, Arian Foster fumbled the ball away at his 26 and Carolina recovered. From there it took quarterback Cam Newton only 4 plays and 2:09 to get the visitors on the board with 12:07 left in the 1st quarter. Cam Newton hit a speeding Steve Smith down the right sideline in the end zone. Olindo Mare added the point after and Carolina led 7-0.
The Texans got a drive going, but Neil Rackers, inconsistent of late, missed a 49-yard field goal with 2:12 left in the opening period, giving the Panthers the ball back at their 39. Carolina took advantage of the good field position and drove 61 yards in 9 plays, taking 4:53 off the clock before finding the end zone again when Newton hit Jeremy Shockey from 9 yards out with 12:19 left in the 1st half. After Mare’s kick, the visitors went ahead 14-0 and things didn’t look good for the home team.
Houston got a drive going, but quarterback T.J. Yates threw into triple coverage and was intercepted by Jordan Senn at the Houston 48 and Carolina took over on offense once again. Richie Brockel scored from 7 yards out with 55 seconds left in the first half, capping a 9-play, 48-yard drive and taking 5:08 off the clock. After the PAT, the Texans were being humiliated at home 21-0.
Carolina received the ball to begin the second half, but the Texans defense forced a 3-and-out. Houston responded with a 28-yard, 6-play scoring drive that took 1:47. The score came on a 26-yard field goal with 11:02 left in the 3rd period, narrowing the score to 21-3.
The Houston defense came to life and forced a punt by the Panthers and the offense got the ball back. Yates threw a number of balls short of his receivers in the drive, but did move the offense 75 yards in 12 plays and took 5:06 off the clock before Neil Rackers came in and hit a 34-yard field goal, narrowing the deficit to 21-6 late in the third stanza.
The defense held again on the next Carolina possession, and Yates finally led his team to a touchdown with a 68-yard, 8-play drive taking 3:37 off the clock. Arian Foster finished the drive from 1 yard out with 13.48 left in the game, and Houston closed the gap to 21-13.
The fan excitement was short-lived, as Carolina came flying back on their next possession. Newton drove his team 80 yards, in 7 plays and took 3:54 off the clock, finding the end zone for a TD. The score came on a 24-yard run by DeAngelo Williams with 9:54 left in the game. Mare added extra point and Carolina was in total control with a 28-13 lead. The score sent frustrated Houston fans rushing for the exits.
The Texans came marching right back, showing a sense of urgency. Just as it looked like they were going to move into position to make a move with a quick touchdown, the inexperienced rookie third-string backup Yates threw an interception at the goal line, ending the threat.
Carolina took over and took as much time as possible off the clock, running the ball on almost every play, passing only when necessary. The strategy paid off as Carolina kept the ball the remainder of the contest. The win moves the Panthers to 5-9 on the year, while the loss drops the Texans to 10-4, and breaks a 7-game winning streak.
It was a somber Coach Gary Kubiak who faced an inquiring media after the inexcusable loss. “First off congratulations to Carolina, they came in here and kicked our butt up and down the field, in all three phases. Congratulations to (Carolina Head Coach) Ron (Rivera) and his team, they did a heck of a job. We obviously weren’t ready to play, and that starts with me. We got away with it last week, the same type of play in the first half, and this week we didn’t get away with it, we got buried in the first half. We tried to fight our way out of it, but ultimately when you turn the ball over and are as sloppy as we were and give up the big plays we gave up you’re not gonna win in this league. Like I said, congratulations to Carolina, they did a heck of a job.”
The loss couldn’t come at a worse time, as the team has a short turnaround and will travel to Indianapolis for a Thursday night game on NFL Network against the Colts. Indy won their first game of the year Sunday when they beat the Tennessee Titans, so they will be on a high and playing at home.
After the Thursday night game, Houston will have 10 days off before hosting Tennessee on New Year’s Day. They desperately need to get positive momentum back before heading into the playoffs, especially since many of the players on the team have never experience playoff euphoria in their careers.