“We have to make sure we’re smart enough”

The Carolina Panthers were one extra point out of first place in the NFC South just three weeks after firing their coach.

Instead, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by DJ Moore in the wake of his 62-yard miracle that tied the game with seconds left sent the potential extra point back 15 yards. Eddie Pineiro fumbled and the Panthers fell to the Falcons in overtime, 37-34, proving they’re still a club with a lot of pain ahead of them despite playing lively football for interim coach Steve Wilks.

“We didn’t find a way to finish,” Wilks said in his postgame press conference. “We had too many chances to win this football game and we didn’t find a way to do it. And that falls on me. We have to make sure we are smart enough. Something to learn from. Penalty celebration, big game like this, we have to keep the our composure. It was a great job with DJ coming up with the big play in the end zone. Great pass by PJ (Walker). But as a team we have to make sure we’re smart and ready. Go to the next level, the next step .”

The Panthers pulled off a shocking win over Tampa Bay in Week 7 and continued that momentum by going hard all day against Atlanta, answering every Falcons score in a game that saw six lead changes.

D’Onta Foreman has continued to prove capable of playing a starring role in the wake of the Christian McCaffrey trade. He carried the ball 26 times for 118 yards and three scores. Moore continued his resurgence with Walker under center, leading the team with six receptions for 152 yards and the game-tying score that preceded the game’s most consequential penalty.

The play came with 23 seconds left and started at the Panthers’ 38-yard line. Down by six, Walker went left and blasted the ball 67.6 yards in the air — the longest completion ever Next Gen Stats started in 2016 — and found Moore for the score with an inch of space against two defenders.

Moore then took off his helmet and beat the flag that suddenly made Pineiro’s 48-yard extra point. Pinerio missed and at 34-34 it went to extra frames.

It was a hero-to-zero mistake made in a matter of seconds. To his credit, Moore had the costly mistake.

“It was a natural reaction,” Moore said. “But you still have to know that you can’t do that.”

Carolina actually ended up giving Pineiro a chance to convert an extra point kick for the overtime win. CJ Henderson intercepted Falcons QB Marcus Mariota on the first possession of OT and returned it to the Atlanta 20-yard line.

The Panthers elected to give the ball away on three straight plays, content to try a 32-yarder, which Pineiro drove wide left. The offense wouldn’t see the ball again — the Falcons converted a 41-yard punt seven plays later off the leg of Younghoe Koo.

And so it was a culmination of mistakes and regrettable decisions that kept Carolina from riding a two-game winning streak to the driver’s seat for the division.

Moore’s penalty would punctuate the loss, but Pinheiro would miss an easier kick and the Panthers could have targeted the jugular deep in Atlanta territory in overtime.

This is the lineup of a 2-6 team. It’s who the Panthers are at the midpoint of the season, but Wilks remains optimistic that the mistakes made to close out October turn into lessons learned and applied as the calendar turns to November.

“This is the National Football League,” Wilks said. “I told the guys that we’re going to see our true character and who we are as a team in how we come in and work tomorrow. It was tough, but we have to prepare for Cincinnati. How we come in tomorrow, make the corrections we need to make, to build on the things we did well and get ready to go out on the road and play some really good football.”

Moore and Co. they’ll get their first chance to fix today’s costly mistakes in Week 9 against the 4-3 Bengals.

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