NFC South: Hot Topic

Need the scoop on the rest of the NFC South after Week 1? Look no further than the "Hot Topic," your exclusive wrap-up of all the Bucs' divisional rivals.

Need the scoop on the rest of the NFC South after Week 1? Look no further than the "Hot Topic," your exclusive wrap-up of all the Bucs' divisional rivals

ATLANTA FALCONS

The limited time members of the Falcons offense spent together in the preseason was not viewed as a concern heading into Sunday's 24-3, season-opening loss at Minnesota.

However, the disjointed flow of the unit -- especially in pass protection -- seemingly exposed flaws that have to be repaired before facing a similarly aggressive defense Sunday at Jacksonville.

Running back Warrick Dunn played a total of 14 snaps in the preseason and, at times, he either missed holes or made wrong cuts against the Vikings. Tight end Alge Crumpler, who did not play much in the preseason and will be held out of at least one practice every week to alleviate wear and tear on his surgically repaired left knee, also seemed to be feeling his way through some of the intricate blocking schemes in the running game.

The one area of the offense where there was some cohesiveness in the preseason was along the offensive line. There are some problems that need to get fixed there in a hurry.

Quarterback Joey Harrington was sacked six times, some of which were his fault because he hung on to the ball too long. However, the Vikings had success rushing off the edge against left tackle Wayne Gandy and they were able to find blitzing lanes along the left side with some creative delayed stunts in which two linebackers occasionally rushed.

Offensive-minded coach Bobby Petrino might have to devise certain protections to help the aging Gandy and rookie left guard Justin Blalock. Harrington also is going to have to do his share by getting rid of the ball quicker, especially when he sees blitzes coming.

Gandy said the offensive line was responsible for its share of failures but not all of them. Sometimes, Gandy said, there are plays when the protection won't allow every rusher to be blocked and it is up to the quarterback and receiver to make a play.

On that note, wide receiver Roddy White said there were times against the Vikings when receivers didn't get open, which forced Harrington to hold the ball for a split second longer than he should have.

Atlanta had moderate success with its run blocking against Minnesota, the stoutest unit in the NFL last season. Right guard Kynan Forney and right tackle Todd Weiner were able to create more lanes, especially in short-yardage situations.

PLAYER NOTES

Starting OLB Demorrio Williams was pulled for the second half of Atlanta's loss to Minnesota in favor of rookie Stephen Nicholas. Coach Bobby Petrino said that was the plan going into the game since Williams didn't play much in the preseason following pectoral surgery and Nicholas played well in his place.

K Matt Prater, who was signed after a workout, a practice and one preseason game, missed his first ever field-goal attempt -- a 44-yard kick in the second quarter of the Vikings' loss. He made a 45-yarder in the fourth quarter, which turned out to be the only points the Falcons scored. "We need to be better than that," Petrino said. "Obviously, we need to make them both. The good thing is he came back and made the second one. He is a very talented young man. We've just got to make sure that we are putting it through the uprights when he gets the opportunity."

CB DeAngelo Hall got his and the team's first interception of the season in the third quarter of the game at Minnesota and returned it 19 yards. "The interception I had, if I would have stayed outside, I would have been in the end zone," Hall said. "It could have been a different ball game -- 7-10. We could have approached it a little different, instead of being behind and having to throw."

DT Rod Coleman had knee surgery Friday morning to remove debris that complicated his return from thigh surgery. Coleman said that doctors had to go through his knee to repair his quadriceps -- he ruptured them in a Jet Ski accident in April -- and that the knee had been problematic. Coleman is projected to return by the third or fourth game.

S Chris Crocker is expected to return this week from a bone bruise that kept him out of the season opener. Second-year player Jimmy Williams replaced Crocker and had a good game. Crocker and Williams were engaged in a competition for the starting job and Crocker's injury and Williams' performance might have opened the door for Williams to retain the starting job.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Now we have a pretty good idea of why Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith was so giddy last week.

Smith bubbled with excitement when talking about new offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson's game plan heading into Sunday's regular-season opener against the St. Louis Rams.

And it turns out Smith's enthusiasm was warranted.

The Panthers ran up 387 yards and Jake Delhomme threw for three touchdowns, including a 68-yarder to Smith, in a 27-13 win over the Rams at the Edward Jones Dome.

That victory helped the Panthers jump out to an early lead in the NFC South with Atlanta, Tampa Bay and New Orleans all losing. It also gives them plenty of optimism about their new offensive scheme heading into Sunday's home opener against the Houston Texans.

"It's so easy for us to come out here and say, 'Oh we're doing this different or we're doing that different (than the preseason),'" Delhomme said. "... But the thing is, when guys feel good about a game plan, you have the confidence going into the game."

The Panthers were confident they were going to run the football, just not right away.

Davidson believed the best way to get things going was to get the ball in the hands of his best playmaker, Steve Smith. He was the intended receiver on Delhomme's first five passes on an opening drive that went 78 yards in nine plays for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

After that, the Panthers went to the running game, looking to pound it out behind hard-charging DeShaun Foster. They sputtered a bit in the second quarter, but eventually wore down the Rams, running 38 times for 189 yards.

The Panthers had six runs of 10 yards or more -- three each by Foster and DeAngelo Williams.

"We knew what we were going to be able to do," Foster said. "We just wanted to get out there and execute."

Granted, Carolina's enthusiasm should be tempered by the fact this mammoth offensive effort came against the league's 31st-ranked defense last season -- remember, the Panthers ran for 242 yards last year against the Rams -- but it does give them confidence in what Davidson is selling as they move forward this season.

They face a stiffer defensive test this week in the Falcons.

"Oh yeah, we're definitely excited," said Williams. "You get the opportunity to choose your own hole in this offense and zone scheme. We have the offensive linemen to do it and they open up some gaping holes. I mean you can't do anything but run through them."

Said Foster: "This offense just fits me well."

It seems to fit everyone.

The quarterback likes it, the running backs like it, the receivers and tight ends like and the offensive linemen, well, they find it more appetizing than a giant steak.

"We started off the preseason looking really good," said tackle Jordan Gross. "And it went down hill from there. I never was doubting what we could do, I was just anxious to do it. The game plan was great. We're putting the players in position to make good plays."

That hasn't always been the case in Carolina.

"I think they built the offense around what we're good at," Gross said.

The nice part, said Smith, is the Panthers have barely begun to flip through Davidson's extensive playbook, and he thinks the best is yet to come.

"We still didn't use about 20 plays that are still sitting in the playbook from this game, that we possibly have carryover that teams didn't see," Smith said. "Just to say that, that shows have deep this playbook can be."

PLAYER NOTES

RB DeShaun Foster ran extremely hard Sunday, carrying tacklers on his back and picking up 94 yards on the ground.

QB Jake Delhomme was sharp, throwing for 201 yards and three scores. He rarely made a mistake and didn't put his team in any bad spots, avoiding the mistakes that plagued him last year.

WLB Jon Beason started for the Panthers and played well in his first game. Beason had three tackles.

WR Dwayne Jarrett, a second-round pick out of USC, was inactive for the season opener.

WR Drew Carter caught two touchdown passes despite limited playing time. Carter, who has improved his route running, is going to benefit from Smith getting so much attention in the red zone. On both scores he beat man-to-man coverage.

FB Brad Hoover had two nice inside runs against the Rams gaining 16 yards. An 8-yard average isn't bad for a fullback.

DE Stanley McClover (thigh) did not play.

DE Otis Grigsby played well as the No. 3 defensive end. It was Grigsby' first NFL game ever although he's gone to five different training camps in his career.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

There was nothing else for Saints coach Sean Payton to do -- in the wake of his team's disappointing 41-10 season-opening setback to the Indianapolis Colts -- but look ahead.

After getting shelled in the second half against the Colts, there was no need to think about what might have been. Instead of pointing out the negatives, Payton decided to treat the loss like he would have had they won.

"We can't have any carry-over or lingering effects," Payton said after watching the tapes of the Colts' 31-point second-half blitz that erased a 10-10 halftime tie. "I'd say the same thing if we had won."

Payton took that approach because the outcome was the direct opposite of the Saints' 42-17 thrashing of the Dallas Cowboys last December. The very next week, the Saints were brought back down to earth with a 16-10 loss to the Washington Redskins.

The satisfaction of that resounding victory over the Cowboys on national TV, Payton said, contributed to their sloppy performance and loss the following Sunday.

"You try to improve, make the corrections and teach and learn, then move on to the next game," Payton said. "That's the approach you have to take. We have to hunker down and get ready for Tampa Bay."

The Saints will try to bounce back and avoid an 0-2 start when they go against the Bucs in Tampa on Sunday. As a result, correcting the mistakes from the first week and moving on to the second week was the only thing on Payton's mind the day after the Colts' debacle.

Getting his offense squared away was Payton's top priority as his team struggled for one of the few times since he took over as coach in 2006.

For the first time in his 19-game tenure, the Saints failed to score an offensive touchdown -- which is not where you want to come up short in facing Peyton Manning and the Colts. The Saints' offense also committed three turnovers.

On the other side of it, the Saints gave up three touchdown passes and had no answer for Manning or second-year running back Joseph Addai. While Manning torched them, Addai was running through them for 118 yards on 23 carries.

Manning took turns burning cornerbacks Jason David and Mike McKenzie, getting David, a former Colts' player, for touchdowns of 27, 28 and 45 yards, and McKenzie for a 42-yard gain that set up Addai's short touchdown run.

Payton said the Saints committed seven players to stopping the run, but let down in giving up the big pass plays. He said they had different coverages on the long pass plays, but the one constant was inadequate coverage.

David scored the Saints' only touchdown by stripping the ball from Reggie Wayne and returning it 55 yards, but had more bad plays.

While he certainly wasn't happy about it, Payton didn't seem like he was ready to panic over David's poor performance.

"I'm sure the technique in coverage is something he'll work on," Payton said. "We'll get it cleaned up."

PLAYER NOTES

TE Mark Campbell, who did not play in the season opener with the Indianapolis Colts because of a back injury, was to be evaluated again this week to see if he can play Sunday at Tampa Bay.

WR David Patten was the third wide receiver on the field along with starters Marques Colston and Devery Henderson against the Colts.

DT Brian Young saw his first action of 2007 when he entered the game on the Colts' third series. Young missed training camp and all five exhibition games with a fractured right foot.

RCB Fred Thomas, a 12-year veteran who lost his starting job in training camp to Jason David, was a healthy inactive against the Colts.

CB Jason Craft was the nickel back in the season opener with the Colts.


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