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Panthers miss chance to gain momentum

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Dan Parr

dparr@pfwmedia.com
Associate editor

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Posted Oct. 31, 2011 @ 10:56 p.m. ET
By Dan Parr

The Panthers (2-6) head into their bye week as the last-place team in the NFC South after dropping four of their last five games, including a 24-21 loss to the Vikings, who had one win prior to Sunday.

Carolina had a chance to tie the game as the field-goal unit set up for a try with 29 seconds remaining, but PK Olindo Mare missed a 31-yard attempt. A kneel-down by Vikings rookie QB Christian Ponder, who notched his first victory in his second career start, ended the game. It was yet another close loss for the Panthers, who have been beaten by three points in two of their last three losses and have had all but two of their games decided by seven points or fewer.

The field-goal miss could haunt Mare, and it's earning him attention he wants no part of. Yet, as Cam Newton and other players said after the game, the Panthers could have avoided putting him in that situation.

The PFW spin

Mare wasn't alone in missing the mark and costing Carolina against the Vikings.

The Panthers' offense sputtered, stringing together three straight three-and-outs in the second half before moving the ball on its final, and ultimately fruitless, possession. A holding penalty on Steve Smith negated a Newton run that would have given the Panthers a first down inside the Vikings' 10-yard line with 36 seconds to play. Newton, who showed how special he can be, throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions and leading the team in rushing (six carries for 53 yards), also had the ball stripped from him twice in Panthers territory in the first half. The Vikings recovered both fumbles before scoring touchdowns off each turnover.

With a bye in Week Nine, Carolina won't get a chance to change the story line until Nov. 13, when the Titans visit Charlotte, and it's hard to envision the Panthers catching fire and changing the course of their season, given their schedule in the second half of the season. After Tennessee, the Panthers have three straight games on the road, where they are 0-3 this season. Only three of the team's last eight games are at Bank of America Stadium, and all but one of the eight games remaining are against an opponent with a record above .500.

It doesn't appear the Panthers are headed for a significant upswing this season. A good start would have been compiling back-to-back wins for the first time since 2009 by beating the Redskins and Vikings in consecutive weeks, but Carolina missed an opportunity Sunday.

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