Assessing Teddy Bridgewater, Panthers' season shaped by late-drive failures

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Game-winning drives define franchise quarterbacks.

The top seven in that category in NFL history -- Peyton Manning (54), Drew Brees (53), Tom Brady (47), Dan Marino (45), Ben Roethlisberger (45), Brett Favre (43) and John Elway (40) -- either are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or are headed there.

Cam Newton had 18 game-winning drives in nine seasons for the Carolina Panthers. One of his more memorable ones came in 2018, when he led Carolina back from 17-0 in the fourth quarter at Philadelphia to win 21-17.

So far in 2020, his replacement has zero. In seven tries.

This is not to suggest the Panthers (4-9) made the wrong decision in moving on from Newton in favor of Teddy Bridgewater, considering Newton’s declining production and injury history the past two seasons.

It’s unfair to fully judge Bridgewater because he’s had to play most of the season without his top weapon: running back Christian McCaffrey.

But Bridgewater and the Panthers should have broken through at least a couple of times in one-score games.

After all, offensive coordinator Joe Brady recently called Bridgewater a franchise quarterback, and that’s what franchise quarterbacks do.

Instead, the Panthers are tied with Arizona for the most one-possession losses (7) in the NFL this season.

The difference is Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray has three game-winning drives. Bridgewater came close to getting one against Minnesota, but Joey Slye missed a 54-yard field goal attempt with one second left.

He hasn’t come close on the other six tries, twice throwing interceptions and a couple of times taking costly sacks. He also made a couple of bad decisions, such as rushing a third-down play before the two-minute warning on Sunday against Denver and not throwing to the sticks on fourth down.

“Teddy made a decision to run a play when we asked him not to," Carolina coach Matt Rhule said on Monday. “It shouldn’t happen that way. ... It just didn’t follow the chain of command."

In the seven losses, Bridgewater is an underwhelming 19-for-29 passing for 187 yards, two interceptions, three sacks and no touchdowns on his final drives against defenses in prevent mode.

Those numbers are a big reason Carolina will miss the playoffs for the third straight year and fourth time in five years since reaching Super Bowl 50. The seven one-score losses ties for the second-most in franchise history in the last 20 seasons.

You can’t put it all on Bridgewater, who had two game-winning drives last year for New Orleans when he replaced Brees for five starts. He also had four during his time with Minnesota. Brady was late getting a call in late against the Vikings that was costly, even though it was the next-to-last series.

“We all know Teddy is going to be measured by the end of game, take it down there and go in," Rhule said. “It hasn’t worked out the way we wanted this year, but a lot of things have."

A closer look at what Bridgewater and the Panthers have done on their last possession when trailing by one score:

Week 1: Raiders 34, Panthers 30

ESPN Analytics chances of victory when gaining possession: 1 percent

Final possession: First down on the Carolina 27 with eight seconds left. This one came down to the inability to mount a drive on the previous series when the Panthers took over at their own 30 with 4:03 remaining.

Key play: Going back to the next-to-last series, Carolina faced fourth-and-1 at the Las Vegas 46 with 1:21 remaining. Brady called a run up the middle to fullback Alex Armah after McCaffrey had carried the offense much of the day with 97 yards rushing and two touchdown and 30 yards receiving. Armah was stuffed for no gain.

Analysis: You give the ball to your star in critical situations. Carolina had scored on its two previous possessions. The game was there for the taking.

Week 6: Bears 23, Panthers 16

ESPN Analytics chances of victory when gaining possession: 12 percent

Final possession: The Panthers took over at their own 20 with 1:32 remaining. Bridgewater was intercepted on a short pass attempt over the middle to DJ Moore on the first play.

Key play: The interception.

Analysis: Carolina had two timeouts and plenty of time to drive for the tying touchdown, winning if it successfully went for two. Pressure on Bridgewater all day was the key.

Week 7: Saints 27, Panthers 24

ESPN Analytics chances of victory when gaining possession: 34 percent

Final possession: First down at the Panthers' 25 with 7:55 remaining. After quickly moving to the New Orleans 39, the drive stalled and Slye missed a field goal from 65 yards.

Key play: Again, this is on Bridgewater. On third-and-8 from the New Orleans 39, he took an 8-yard sack. ESPN analytics showed he had time to get rid of the ball. Slye’s kick was dead center and only a bit short, so he could have made the kick from eight yards closer.

Analysis: Bridgewater can’t take that sack.

Week 8: Falcons 25, Panthers 17

ESPN Analytics chances of victory when gaining possession: 5 percent

Final possession: First down from the Carolina 5 with 2:58 remaining against a team with a reputation for blowing games this season. Bridgewater put Carolina in position at the Atlanta 30 with 1:04 left, then was intercepted at the Atlanta 9.

Key play: Again, the interception. There was plenty of time (1:04) left and good field position.

Analysis: With a timeout left, there was no need to force a deep pass unless it was certain to be caught or incomplete.

Week 9: Chiefs 33, Panthers 31

ESPN Analytics chances of victory when gaining possession: 14 percent

Final possession: First down at the Panthers' 9 with 1:26 to play. Not ideal, but considering Carolina scored touchdowns on its previous two drives, there was a chance. The game ended with Slye missing a 67-yard field goal that also would have broken the NFL record.

Key play: An illegal hands-to-the-face penalty early in the drive cost Carolina 10 yards with no timeouts and a long way to go.

Analysis: This was arguably the best team in the NFL finding a way to hold on.

Week 12: Vikings 28, Panthers 27

ESPN Analytics chances of victory when gaining possession: 10 percent

Final possession: First down at the Panthers' 13 with 43 seconds remaining. Slye had a realistic shot at making a 54-yard field goal for the win on the next-to-last play, but it hooked left.

Key play: Bridgewater connected with Curtis Samuel on the first play for 35 yards to give Carolina a chance. Bridgewater did all he could here.

Analysis: Slye is known for making long kicks. He has to make that.

Week 14: Broncos 32, Panthers 27

ESPN Analytics chances of victory when gaining possession: 14.6 percent

Final possession: First-and-10 from the Panthers' 27 with 2:48 to play and no timeouts. A sack on the first play put the Panthers in a hole. An incompletion on fourth-and-8 with 1:56 remaining ended it.

Key play: Rhule made it clear after the game he didn’t want to run a play right before the two-minute warning. Bridgewater rushed to get a third-down play off because he thought he saw an opportunity against the defense, but the pass never had a chance. That left Carolina with the long play on fourth down.

Analysis: Blame Bridgewater for rushing the third-down play. “In that area, I think he thought a little more grace to get that done," Rhule said. It was another example of how bad time management all around has hurt Carolina in close games. Arguably the biggest play in the Minnesota loss was on Carolina’s next-to-last series, when Brady didn’t get a play to Bridgewater fast enough near the goal line, with the result a delay-of-game penalty.

As Rhule summed up, “We have to get better in those areas."