Bryan Strickland Senior Writer
The Panthers made up for it, however, by getting their hands on the ball and causing even more trouble for the Eagles.
Brown rushed for 178 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but he lost a pair of fumbles in the second half thanks to the efforts of ball-hawking defensive linemen to spell the difference in Carolina’s 30-22 victory.
“As bad as we were against the run, we made plays when we had to, when it counted,” said Panthers linebacker
Thomas Davis, who recovered one of Brown’s fumbles. “They gained a bunch of yards, but we ran to the ball and were able to get the ball out.”
Brown averaged a remarkable 9.4 yards on 19 carries, but his average would have been even greater – and perhaps the outcome would have been different – if not for what the Panthers defense did on his final carry of the game.
With the Eagles trailing 24-22 and facing fourth-and-inches from the Carolina 40-yard line with nearly nine minutes remaining, Philadelphia had to be supremely confident that Brown could pick up the required distance.
Panthers defensive tackle Dwan Edwards had different ideas, pushing the back pack on a slow-developing play and bringing Brown down in the backfield. The Panthers offense followed with a touchdown drive, and after a turnover on the ensuing kickoff, Carolina didn’t have to deal with Brown anymore.
“It was a huge point in the game to get the ball back to the offense,” Edwards said. “That was probably the difference in the game – forcing turnovers and giving the offense chances to put points on the board.”
Brown, a seventh-round draft pick who left the Kansas State program early last season, did his share of putting points on the board in place of injured starter LeSean McCoy.
He rushed for 129 yards in the first half, including a 65-yard touchdown in the second quarter that brought the Eagles within 14-12 after Carolina had jumped out to a 14-3 lead.
“We knew where we needed to be; we just didn’t do a good job of getting where we needed to be,” said Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, who recovered Brown’s other fumble. “We were out of our gaps a couple of times, and then all he’s got to do is hit that gap and he’s to the second level. We’ve got to do a better job of sitting in our gaps.”
Brown scored again after halftime, on a 5-yard run that gave Philadelphia a 22-21 lead late in the third quarter, but he was limited to 49 second-half yards and lost a fumble before and after his second touchdown.
On the Eagles’ opening drive of the half, with Philadelphia fast-approaching field goal range, defensive tackle Sione Fua stripped Brown in the open field, and Kuechly recovered.
“He made a cutback, I just laid the wood on him,” Fua said. “I hit him pretty good, and the ball came out. Luke was there to pick it up.”
Then late in the third quarter, with the Eagles ahead and approaching midfield, defensive end Charles Johnson got in the act with a strip of his own that Davis recovered.
“When they break through the line, running backs tend to carry the ball loosely because they’re not expecting to get hit when they’re making a move,” said Johnson, who helped hold rookie quarterback Nick Foles to 119 passing yards. “We tried to strip the ball, like we always do.
“We made some big-time plays, but we gave up a lot of big-time plays, too. We’ve got to correct those before Kansas City.”