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Week 14 Game Recap: Carolina Panthers 20, Cleveland Browns 26


What you need to know

Carolina Panthers

There is a real lack of spirit and, for lack of a better term, mojo for the Carolina offense. During this five-game losing streak, fluency has been a rare occurrence - and Cam Newton's declining level of play has coincided with the skid. Newton played within himself against Cleveland, relying mostly on shorter passes perhaps to protect his ailing shoulder injury. When Newton tried to hit outside-breaking routes or downfield throws, they died in the air and lacked velocity. Christian McCaffrey provided a safe pair of hands on just the types of passes Newton could make - checkdowns. Cashing in with two rushing touchdowns, McCaffrey was a constant threat. Devin Funchess produced another anonymous performance, with miscommunication between he and Newton ending drives. D.J. Moore looked fantastic apart from an egregious red zone drop that would have been a touchdown and produced some stunning runs after the catch. Ian Thomas stepped into the Greg Olsen role and looked undaunted by the additional responsibility, giving the Panthers a run-after-catch weapon at tight end that the elder statesman Olsen simply cannot provide.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns continued their strong play under interim head coach Gregg Williams, knocking off the Carolina Panthers in Week 14. While he didn't post eye-popping stats, Baker Mayfield played nearly perfectly, throwing just four incompletions on 22 pass attempts. Of those four misfires, three can legitimately be called drops by his receivers. Jarvis Landry stepped up in a big way, accounting for a rushing and a receiving touchdown. He came close to scoring a third time, getting dragged down at the Carolina four-yard line after a 51-yard run. The Cleveland defense came to play, as well, holding the Panthers scoreless in the fourth quarter to allow the offense to secure the comeback win. They forced a turnover on downs at the Cleveland three-yard line with 2:39 left in the game and then intercepted Cam Newton on the following possession to lock up their fifth win on the season.

Carolina Panthers

QB Cam Newton, 73 offensive snaps, Pass: 26 - 42 - 265 - 0 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 5 - 23 - 0
Cam Newton did a reasonable job dealing with a Browns pass rush that caused the Panthers offensive line some problems, without being overwhelming. Newton started off well, hitting Curtis Samuel on a deep crossing route that showed excellent anticipation. A red zone dart to D.J. Moore looked to be a touchdown, but the receiver dropped it. Newton rarely used his legs in this game but did it effectively when called upon. As the game wore on, Newton struggled hitting outside-breaking routes, the ball at times dying in mid-air. He had similar problems with deep passes, including a toss to Samuel down the left sideline that the receiver had to come back for. Newton and Devin Funchess had a couple of key miscommunications that were indicative of the offense's inconsistencies. Late in the game, Newton became more erratic with his mechanics, two simple passes flying over the heads of his intended receivers. A final red zone opportunity to take the lead went abegging, with Newton missing Samuel on a quick out and Jarius Wright on a crossing pattern. When the offense got one final opportunity, Newton tossed an interception as it appeared he and Funchess were once again seeing different things.

RB Christian McCaffrey, 74 offensive snaps, Rush: 16 - 63 - 2, Rec: 6 - 38 - 0 (7 targets)
Carolina's do-it-all back looked to be off to a auspicious start, breaking off some nice gains in the early stages to put the Browns on notice. McCaffrey would cap that first drive success with a touchdown run out of the shotgun, running behind an outstanding block to squirt into the end zone. It wasn't long before the Panthers were set up with a short field after a Browns turnover, with McCaffrey cashing in for a second rushing touchdown, this time a one-yard dive that epitomised his toughness. The offense stagnated after that, and McCaffrey was not utilised as much until the fourth quarter, when things started to click again. He had a third rushing touchdown called back by a holding penalty but managed to produce a couple of nice runs after the catch in the dying moments.

WR D.J. Moore, 67 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 0 - 0, Rec: 5 - 67 - 0 (8 targets)
D.J. Moore started the game off in poor fashion, dropping a straightforward pass from Cam Newton with the offense set up close to the Cleveland goal line. Moore ran an excellent pivot route on the play, got separation from the defender, but showed poor technique with his hands at the crucial moment. To his credit he bounced back with an incredible catch on a slant route, the ball initially stuck between his legs as he quickly adjusted for it. He showed off his outstanding run-after-catch prowess later, catching a slant on the right side before banging off a tackler, spinning, juking and scooting all the way up the left sideline for a big gain. Moore was mostly used as a short option for the remainder of the game, catching swing passes and quick-hitting routes. An option pitch to him in the red zone came just yards shy of the goal line in the latter stages.

WR Jarius Wright, 38 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 5 - 0, Rec: 3 - 36 - 0 (5 targets)
Jarius Wright was utilised mostly as a checkdown option as the Browns often played man-free coverage and sent extra rushers. Wright provided a much-needed outlet against that pressure, with his biggest play coming on a deep shot down the right sideline late in the game. Wright showed excellent focus and managed to come back for the ball as it hung up in the air.

WR Curtis Samuel, 69 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 80 - 0 (8 targets)
Pocket dynamo Curtis Samuel had a mixed bag against Cleveland, at times producing standout plays, at others letting his team down in crucial situations. Samuel's first catch, a contested grab on a deep crossing pattern, augured well for the offense. A subsequent target on a sideline toss hit the ground as he went down to scoop it. At the end of the first half Samuel secured a couple of catches as the Browns played a shell coverage to take away the deep ball. It wasn't until the second half that Samuel had his most crucial error, a drop on a deep target down the left sideline. He had to adjust and check his route to make a play on the ball, which he did. However, as he came down to the turf the ball jarred loose, erasing a potentially huge play. A late red zone target on a quick out was out of his reach.

WR Devin Funchess, 29 offensive snaps (3 targets)
Devin Funchess endured another ignominious afternoon against the Browns, continuing his run as the odd man out in the Carolina passing attack. His first target didn't come until the second half, and the play illustrated a discord in the relationship between he and Cam Newton. Funchess ran a seam pattern on third down and Newton, expecting his receiver to expect a quick pass against pressure, released the ball quickly. Funchess didn't adjust, however, and never looked back for the ball. A deep target late in the game sailed over Funchess' head, while a final target what proved to be the last pass of the game for Carolina - was intercepted after it appeared he and Newton were on different wavelengths once again.

TE Ian Thomas, 61 offensive snaps, Rec: 9 - 77 - 0 (11 targets)
With veteran tight end Greg Olsen out for the year, Ian Thomas stepped into the breach against Cleveland and performed very well. Looking comfortable throughout, Thomas showed excellent hands on one catch, plucking the ball away from his frame on a low, errant Cam Newton pass. The two appeared to build chemistry as the game continued, with Newton trusting Thomas to deliver on key third downs. Thomas showed fluid movement in the open field and surprised a couple of Browns tacklers with his change of direction. He was unfortunate not to bag a touchdown, a catch and run in the red zone coming inches shy of the goal line.


Cleveland Browns

QB Baker Mayfield, 52 offensive snaps, Pass: 18 - 22 - 238 - 1 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 4 - 2 - 0
Mayfield played nearly perfectly, missing on just four of his 22 pass attempts. Three of those incompletions were drops by his receivers. Mayfield was excellent in the pocket in this game, moving expertly to avoid pressure and firing passes with laser precision while on the run. His very first pass of the game was a 66-yard strike off of play action which hit Breshad Perriman perfectly in stride. Perriman stumbled toward the end of the catch or it would have gone for a touchdown. Mayfield's touchdown pass came at the beginning of the second quarter on a ridiculously good pass. He did a great job avoiding pressure before running left and then firing a 51-yard strike to Jarvis Landry in the end zone, splitting a Carolina double team in the process. He should have had another touchdown later in the second quarter but a wide open Rashard Higgins dropped a perfect pass down the middle of the field. The Panthers played much better defense in the second half, which forced Mayfield to play more conservatively. Despite the improved competition, Mayfield still kept the chains moving. On the second drive of the fourth quarter, Mayfield made perhaps the pass of the game, though it might go overlooked. Backed up to his own goal line, Mayfield rolled right in his own end zone and hit Perriman with a 15-yard pass on 2nd-and-11. It gave the offense some breathing room and kept the Panthers out of an advantageous spot. The Browns' strong running game and Mayfield's efficiency are keeping him from posting huge fantasy games but he is a solid QB2 for the rest of the way.

RB Nick Chubb, 33 offensive snaps, Rush: 13 - 66 - 1, Rec: 4 - 17 - 0 (6 targets)
Chubb managed to find the end zone again in Week 14. That makes six touchdowns in seven games since he was installed as the starter. Not only is he finding the end zone with regularity but his skill in the passing game has marginalized Duke Johnson. Following Breshad Perriman's big 66-yard reception, Chubb saw a red zone carry from the Carolina six-yard line. He went up the middle for three yards on the play. He showed his power on the first drive of the second quarter, dragging defenders for a first down on a 3rd-and-1 carry and then later dragging Luke Kuechly on a seven-yard gain. He did drop a pass in the second quarter on a play where he took a big hit right after the ball made contact with his hands. Chubb's touchdown came on a four-yard run in the third quarter. Initially it looked as though he would get stopped at the one-yard line but he was able to power his way over the goal line for the score. Chubb's longest play of the afternoon came on a 29-yard run in the fourth quarter. Chubb's ability in the passing game and high touchdown upside makes him an every week fantasy starter.

RB Duke Johnson, 18 offensive snaps, Rush: 2 - -6 - 0
Johnson saw just two carries and surprisingly wasn't targeted in the passing game. Meanwhile, upstart rookie Nick Chubb saw a team-leading six targets. It is safe to say that Chubb's skill in the passing game has marginalized Johnson to the point where he isn't even being used much as a pass-catcher. Johnson was in the backfield on Jarvis Landry's three-yard touchdown run in the first quarter but operated as a decoy. His first run went for no gain and he lost six yards on his only other carry.

WR Jarvis Landry, 42 offensive snaps, Pass: 0 - 1 - 0 - 0 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 2 - 54 - 1, Rec: 3 - 57 - 1 (4 targets)
While he wasn't heavily targeted, Landry found a way to make an impact on the game. The veteran receiver wound up scoring twice, once on a 51-yard reception and once on a three-yard run on an inside handoff. Landry also ripped off a 51-yard run which saw him get dragged down at the Carolina four-yard line. Both of Landry's rushes came on the same play, an inside run where he started on the left side of the formation. He could have had a bigger game but he had two catches called back due to offensive penalties. Landry had an 18-yard catch called back after an ineligible player downfield penalty and a 16-yarder come back thanks to a holding penalty. Landry drew an end zone target in the first quarter but the pass was too high and the play was nullified by a defensive offsides penalty. Landry's 51-yard touchdown reception came at the beginning of the second quarter. With Landry double covered by Carolina, Baker Mayfield made a perfect throw, hitting Landry a few steps inside the end zone. Landry did lose a fumble at the beginning of the third quarter after Luke Kuechly ripped the ball away from him after a short pass. He bounced back with his 51-yard run where he showed his elusiveness in the open field on a winding, zigzagging run. He came close to scoring but was run down by Kuechly at the Carolina four-yard line. Thanks to Mayfield's tendency to spread the ball around, Landry isn't getting the volume but creative play-calling helped him to turn in a big game.

WR Breshad Perriman, 19 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 81 - 0 (2 targets)
Perriman got the Browns off to a fast start, hauling in a 66-yard pass from Baker Mayfield on the offense's first play of the game. He got at least two steps on his defender and Mayfield found him on a play action pass. Perriman might have scored a touchdown on the play but stumbled at the Carolina nine-yard line. He was quiet for most of the rest of the game, tacking on a 15-yard reception in the fourth quarter. Signed off the scrap heap after the Ravens gave up on him, the Browns have found a use for his deep speed in their offense. While that isn't likely to make a fantasy impact, Perriman is helping open up the field for his teammates.

WR Rashard Higgins, 26 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 19 - 0 (3 targets)
Higgins had an up-and-down afternoon. He caught a short screen in the first quarter but Carolina forced a fumble. He bounced back to make a great 16-yard catch in the second quarter. He did a great job at high-pointing the pass for the completion. Later on that drive, Higgins committed a bad drop on a pass that could have gone for a touchdown. He was wide open down the middle inside the Carolina 10-yard line but simply dropped an easy catch. There was a good chance he would have been able to run for the touchdown had he made the grab.

WR Antonio Callaway, 38 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 0 - 0 (1 targets)
Callaway was hardly heard from in this game, catching his lone target for no gain. Baker Mayfield continues to spread the ball around, as he completed passes to eight different receivers, so there are going to be slow games like this for Cleveland's No. 2 receiver.

TE David Njoku, 43 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 35 - 0 (4 targets)
Njoku had a 28-yard reception on a good catch in the second quarter but he was mostly quiet other than that. His first catch of the game went for no gain and his only other catch was a seven-yarder in the fourth quarter. He did get open on the right side of the field in the third quarter but dropped a pass. The pass was a little high but it was a catchable ball that Njoku should have been able to convert. The spread-the-wealth offense being run by the Browns has cut into Njoku's workload of late but he remains a high upside player due to his athleticism and run-after-the-catch abilities.