With just the slightest of changes—a difference bounce, a slower receiver, maybe even a small gust of wind—the Chargers could have improved to 2-1 on Sunday with a home win against the anonymous Panthers. Instead, this is a story about two plays that just barely went wrong for the Bolts and led to a 21-16 Carolina victory.
Though, based on the markets in which it was shown, Panthers-Chargers was likely one of the least-watched games on Sunday, its final two minutes were worth tuning in for. If the Chargers had fans, their painful enduring memory of Week 3 would be this game’s final play. With five seconds to go and the Chargers 28 yards away from a win, Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler almost executed a perfect hook-and-lateral. The defense seemed fooled and Ekeler appeared to have enough space to find the endzone, but Allen’s pitch was just a few inches behind his partner, forcing Ekeler to bobble it onto the ground and come up short.
Perhaps just as crucial to the outcome, however, was a punt by the Panthers two minutes earlier that set up the Chargers’ final drive. It was an absolutely flawless kick by Joseph Charlton, though it didn’t look that way on first glance, watching at normal speed.
Initially, after five different Panthers played hot potato with the football, the refs called it a touchback and put the ball at the 20. But when the sequence was slowed down on replay, it became apparent that long snapper J. J. Jansen had in fact made a tremendous play.
Though analysts can sometimes be a bit condescending when they talk up the importance of a long snapper to a football team, Jansen’s contribution to the Panthers’ win was extremely visible in this particular moment. After doing his job to start the play, Jansen ran 40 yards downfield to meet the ball right at the goal line. Though he ended up getting pushed into the endzone by his own teammate, he still managed to gain full possession of the ball in the field of play before throwing it backward. By rule, that action was enough to call the ball down and force the Chargers to run a 99-yard two-minute drill with no timeouts, instead of 80 yards.
Jansen’s heroics, which weren’t able to be comprehended by the naked eye in real time, quite literally made the difference in the game. Rewatch the hook-and-lateral and see where the game ended for L..A. That’s right: at the Panthers’ 19.