CHARLOTTE - Sunday was supposed to be a day of celebration for Teddy Bridgewater.
But instead of enjoying a return to the place where his career began and nearly ended, he was left to explain another puzzling loss.
Bridgewater started slowly, and failed to finish in the Panthers' 28-27 loss to the Vikings.
He threw an interception in the red zone, killing a points-scoring opportunity, but he also wasn't consistent over the course of the game. He finished 19-of-36 for 267 yards, with a touchdown and the pick, and his 74.7 passer rating was a reliable indicator of how uneven his day was.
"Yeah, it's very difficult," Bridgewater said of the latest close loss. "It's frustrating, but you understand that everything happens for a reason. Obviously, you learn a lot from games like these, and hopefully, you don't have to keep experiencing this.
"It's great to see the defense out there playing fast, scoring points; special teams creating turnovers. I think when you play a game like that, and you win the turnover battle and score two defensive touchdowns, you usually win those kinds of games.
"But I think today it was one of those days where we've just got to keep that killer instinct. You can't get up and try to protect the lead. You want to take the lead and continue to try to run it up. Eventually, you end up running the ball in the fourth quarter to seal victories, but throughout the third quarter and things like that, there's a lot of time left, a lot of football left. It's one of those deals where you just want to stay aggressive, and I think we can do a better job of that."
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Bridgewater started the game by completing just one of his first seven passes. But the one that will haunt him was the late miss, when he failed to connect with an open DJ Moore in the back of the end zone. That Moore came up limping with an ankle injury on the play makes it worse (there were no injury updates after the game), but the miss was egregious on its own.
On third-and-goal from the Vikings' 3-yard line, Bridgewater gunned one high, and the chance to end the game went away as quickly as the possession. After taking over at the Vikings' 9-yard line following a muffed punt by Chad Beebe, the Panthers used just 16 seconds of game time to go three-and-out, leaving far too much time for Kirk Cousins to lead another comeback.
"I think we've just got to be better from top to bottom, from the sideline to executing on the field," Bridgewater said. "It's one of those deals where I felt like we might have panicked a little bit trying to figure out what play call to call in that situation because it's like do we run the ball and get stopped, make the clock go down to a minute and 10 or throw the ball and try to score? I think, honestly, we called a great play, we just didn't have enough time to execute."
There appeared to be some confusion on the play in terms of timing, and Bridgewater said that with more time to process, they might have checked to a run, which he thought would have worked.
"I think if we would've gotten the play call in, or we would've been able to make a decision sooner on what call to make," he said.
There was not an explicit or overt admission of his own role in the mishaps, other than a brief mention that on the critical third-down play: "It wasn't the right look but still just got to hit the throw, probably." On a day when everyone had a hand in the loss, it was an unusual note to strike.
Bridgewater also came up wincing before the final field goal attempt from Joey Slye. Bridgewater said his arm got "sideswiped or something."
According to head coach Matt Rhule, there was some consideration of running another play with six seconds remaining if not for the apparent injury, as he wasn't going to put backup quarterback P.J. Walker into that position, electing to let Slye try a 54-yard field goal.
Bridgewater said he was physically fine, but the way the game ended will leave a different kind of mark.