So close, yet so Favre

Panthers unable to rally and stave off 0-3 start

The situation is dire.

Despite a brave fourth-quarter comeback, the Carolina Panthers fell to 0-3 with a 37-30 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Ericsson Stadium and face a gloomy future.

The Panthers' next three games are on the road and their injury list is still growing.

Winning was all that mattered against Green Bay, prompting outside linebacker Kevin Greene to scoff at the suggestion that battling Brett Favre and the Packers down to the last play constituted a moral victory.

``We haven't won one yet; that's the reality,'' Greene said. ``I don't know if there's a silver lining in the cloud above this team right now.''

There was a glimmer of light late in the fourth quarter.

With two seconds remaining, the Panthers had the ball at the Packers' five-yard line, trailing by seven. A touchdown would have cut Green Bay's lead to one and coach Dom Capers' plan was to kick an extra point to force overtime.

``That's an awesome situation to be in,'' tight end Wesley Walls said. ``It's so much fun.''

But the fun didn't last.

Quarterback Kerry Collins couldn't find an open receiver -- he looked for Rocket Ismail in the back of the end zone and Walls in the middle -- so he had to scramble.

When he finally threw the ball, it was basically a prayer. Walls was in the general direction of the pass, but so was a crowd of Packers defenders.

Cornerback Craig Newsome batted the ball up and safety Darren Sharper kicked it (accidentally) to kill the Panthers' chances.

``I tried to buy some time, but we didn't come off the line clean and that's really what you look for,'' Collins said.

It's amazing the Panthers got into position for a potential tying touchdown considering two breakdowns earlier in the fourth quarter by linebacker Greg Lloyd and offensive tackle Blake Brockermeyer.

Lloyd was flagged for an offsides penalty with 2:36 remaining as the Packers were preparing to run a third-and-1 play from their 38. If Carolina had stopped the Packers there, they would have had to punt and the Panthers would have gotten the ball with two timeouts remaining.

But due to the penalty, the Packers automatically got a first down and the Panthers were forced to use the timeouts before the offense got the ball.

Brockermeyer essentially removed himself from the game by losing his temper. He punched Green Bay lineman Bob Kuberski in the stomach when the Panthers were kicking an extra point with 4:17 remaining.

Brockermeyer was ejected and wasn't available to play left tackle on the final drive. Already, Carolina was without left guard Matt Campbell, who sprained a knee in the first half.

Rookie Paul Janus had to take Brockermeyer's place at left tackle. His only repetitions there had been on the scout team. Campbell's absence caused center Frank Garcia to move to guard and backup Bryan Stoltenberg to play center.

``It was like a house of cards out there,'' Walls said. ``We were mixing and matching people all over the place.''

It was that way in the secondary, too. Cornerback Doug Evans had to leave the game temporarily in the first half because of a dislocated thumb. He returned wearing a cast, which limited his ability to defend Packers receivers.

Against Favre, the Panthers needed Evans at full strength.

Even though Carolina intercepted Favre three times, he never stopped slinging passes, finishing with 388 yards and five touchdowns.

``He's a special guy,'' Carolina coach Dom Capers said. ``He's got a gunslinger mentality.''

Favre was like a three-point shooter in basketball, not letting his misses make him hesitant to keep firing.

Before Favre got hot, the Panthers put themselves in position to pull off the upset they craved.

Carolina drove 47 yards for a field goal and a 3-0 lead on the game's first possession.

Then, on Green Bay's first play, linebacker Jeff Brady intercepted Favre's pass and returned the ball 16 yards to the Packers' 11.

The Panthers didn't blow that red-zone opportunity, scoring on a five-yard pass from Collins to Rocket Ismail to go up 10-0.

The Packers came roaring back in a first-half shootout.

Green Bay did its damage with offense and the Panthers stayed close with defense. Cornerback Eric Davis picked off a Favre pass early in the second quarter and returned the ball 16 yards for a touchdown.

The score was 20-20 at halftime.

The Packers took a 37-23 lead and shut down the Carolina offense in the second half.

In the first 23 1/2 minutes after halftime, the Panthers gained just three yards and didn't pick up a first down.

Then, suddenly, the offense came to life when Carolina gained possession with 6:31 remaining. Collins' passes helped the Panthers go 70 yards for a touchdown, which came on a 15-yard pass to Muhsin Muhammad.

That cut the Packers' lead to 37-30 and set up the dramatic finale.

That the Panthers got so close only added to their disappointment.

``When you're going through what we're going through right now, the most important thing is you can't get down,'' Capers said. ``The thing I was most encouraged by today was that our team hung in there and they fought and they fought and they fought.''

With 13 weeks remaining in the season, the fight is just beginning, but the Panthers are already on the ropes.