Grading the Carolina Panthers 26-20 loss to Cleveland on Sunday:
D Quarterback: Cam Newton finished 26 of 42 for 265 yards and an interception — after starting 15 of 20. He avoided two other turnovers, one on a review of a fumble when replay ruled it an incomplete pass as they saw Newton’s arm move in a throwing motion. And an interception overturned because of a hold on Cleveland. Late mistakes drag his grade down. Newton overthrew Jarius Wright in the end zone on the potential go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter, on fourth and goal from the 3 with the Browns up six. Then, after the Panthers got the ball back with one more chance to win, he overthrew a pass that was intercepted.
A- Running backs: Christian McCaffrey scored his 11th and 12th touchdowns of the season, both on the ground. He leads the league in touchdowns over the past six weeks.
C- Receivers: The Panthers lost out on a sure first down when a wide-open Funchess failed to turn around and the ball sailed incomplete. Carolina’s receivers dropped three passes in a row in the fourth quarter, including a third-down deep ball that would have flipped the field. Rookie tight end Ian Thomas had a big third-down conversion in the third quarter — then was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for his celebration.
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D- Offensive line: Chris Clark was beaten several times but manged to allow only Browns DE Myles Garrett one sack. Once, Newton stepped up into the pocket and delivered a nice ball, but another pressure that beat Clark collapsed the pocket led to the Newton fumble that was then ruled an incomplete pass. A Taylor Moton hold wiped out a third McCaffrey touchdown in the third quarter.
B Defensive line: Carolina’s pressure up front came alive in the third quarter as it forced Mayfield to move around more in the pocket. Pressure also forced two offensive holds, which helped hold the Browns to minus-6 yards through the first three drives of the third quarter.
A- Linebackers: Luke Kuechly was a maniac, forcing two fumbles and chasing down a long run to prevent a touchdown in the third quarter. Thomas Davis recovered one of the fumbles, but got beat on a passing play in the second quarter that, luckily for him, was dropped.
D Secondary: Once again, explosive plays over the top hurt Carolina. Quarterback Baker Mayfield’s first pass of the game was a 66-yard bomb to Breshad Perriman, who had Donte Jackson beat. Mayfield converted two third-and-long plays, one for a 51-yard touchdown. Munnerlyn had a nice sack on Mayfield on third-and-long in the third quarter but also had two bad penalties. Jackson prevented another long touchdown in the second quarter with a punch-out.
B Special teams: A delay of game penalty in the third quarter pushed the field goal unit out of range, and the Panthers were forced to punt instead of take points from a Kuechly-forced takeaway on the Browns’ previous drive. New kicker Chandler Catanzaro made both of his field goals and both extra points.
C Coaching: Calls seemed to be there defensively, but players were beaten on a couple of crucial chunk passing plays. Passing plays were available, and called, but got dropped too often in the fourth quarter. Defensive halftime adjustments for the pass-rush worked well in Carolina’s favor, but largely only in the third quarter.