NFC South: Hot Topic Week 2

Get the inside scoop on the Atlanta Falcons, the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints after their Week 2 games in the NFC South Hot Topic.

ATLANTA FALCONS

HOT TOPIC

For the second consecutive year, the Falcons pinned their hopes on an unproven place-kicker. For the second consecutive year, they could be making a change after their second game.

Matt Prater, an undrafted free agent who has been cut by three teams since graduating from Central Florida in 2006, missed two field goals in Sunday's 13-7 loss at Jacksonville. Prater missed three of four field-goal attempts thus far, but his two errant attempts against the Jaguars -- both sailed wide right -- could have sealed his fate, and not just because Atlanta lost by six points.

His second miss, a 26-yarder in the third quarter, ruined the team's only substantial drive in the second half and prompted a radical momentum shift that led to an 80-yard, go-ahead touchdown drive by the Jags. Several players said after the game that the miss was devastating.

Coach Bobby Petrino was equally as blunt when asked if there could be a change at kicker.

"It's something we've got to take a look at," Petrino said. "He missed them both. That's the bottom line."

The Falcons have to absorb much of the blame for what has happened at place-kicker. For most of the offseason and preseason, veteran Billy Cundiff established himself as a capable kicker. Atlanta brought in Prater before the final preseason game after Miami released him.

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg liked Prater, whom he'd scouted for years, for his deep kickoffs. However, Prater was unsteady as a place-kicker and proved it by missing a field-goal attempt in his one preseason appearance with the team. Even so, the Falcons let Cundiff go and rolled the dice on Prater.

Last season, the Falcons signed Morten Andersen after their experiment of using Michael Koenen try all three kicking duties. There is some divided sentiment regarding Andersen among Falcons executives, but an experienced kicker, like Cundiff, could be back in the mix.

PLAYER NOTES

RB Warrick Dunn said the he is not quite in optimum physical shape because of the preseason surgery he had to repair a herniated disc in his lower back.

"I do need a few more games, a couple more games just to be comfortable and be back in football shape," Dunn said. "I'm still grinding away. My legs feel good, but I'm not to where I want to be. I think in time I will be there."

RCB Lewis Sanders could be in jeopardy of losing his starting job heading into Sunday's home opener vs. Carolina. Jacksonville successfully went after Sanders in the second half of its 13-7 victory, scoring its only touchdown on a 14-yard pass from David Garrard to Reggie Williams against Sanders. The Falcons benched Sanders in the fourth in favor of rookie Chris Houston, who was drafted to eventually take over as the starter.

LT Wayne Gandy sustained a hamstring injury early on against Jacksonville and did not return. Renardo Foster, an undrafted rookie out of Louisville, replaced Gandy and did a solid job until getting called for a crucial holding penalty on a six-yard scramble by Joey Harrington on third down that nullified a first down.

Foster said his familiarity in playing for Petrino helped him not only make the team but to be able to perform as well as he did.

"When (Gandy) went down I was ready to go in," said Foster, who played for Petrino in college at Louisville. "I know I'm a rookie but I've been running this system for four years. I know how to adjust and read blitzes."

DT Jonathan Babineaux had two sacks, nose tackle Grady Jackson had one, as did end Jonathan Abraham, leaving rookie Jamaal Anderson as the only starter not to have a sack. The four sacks came after Atlanta did not record a sack in the season-opener at Minnesota.

C Todd McClure said the offensive line's woes protecting quarterback Joey Harrington stem from a lot of opponents' gaming and confusing some of the protection strategies. The key to make things better? Establish the run and keep Harrington from having to make plays in the passing game.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

HOT TOPIC

The Panthers are probably thrilled to be heading back on the road this week to face the Atlanta Falcons.

The Panthers lost their fourth consecutive home opener and were booed by their fans after blowing an early 14-0 lead to the Houston Texans and losing 34-21 at Bank of America Stadium.

The concern from this past week isn't as much about the offense -- although they have plenty of issues to overcome there -- but about their defense.

Houston isn't exactly an offensive powerhouse, but the Texans managed to put up 346 yards and 34 points on the Panthers. Matt Schaub completed 20 of 28 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns, both to Andre Johnson.

But it was the simple things that threw off the Panthers.

The Texans effectively mixed the running of Ahman Green -- 71 yards and one touchdown -- and short passes by Schaub to his tight ends and fullback, as well as running bootlegs and play-action fakes, to fool the Panthers.

"They were pretty much running your basic stuff," said linebacker Dan Morgan. "Throwing quick outs, fullbacks in the flat, it wasn't anything crazy. We were just ineffective."

Said coach John Fox: "They obviously came to play and they kept playing. I didn't think we did a very good job late in the first quarter and second quarter defensively. They didn't do anything we hadn't seen, we just didn't execute and make plays."

Defensive end Julius Peppers, considered one of the better defensive players in the league, was quiet again, finishing with two tackles and no sacks. Peppers has yet to make an impact in a game this season.

The Panthers managed to force just one turnover.

The big blow came after the Panthers went up 14-0 and the defense allowed Schaub to complete passes of 34 and 31 yards to Andre Johnson on a three-play, 65-yard touchdown drive that quickly cut the lead in half. From then on, the Texans had the momentum and the Panthers had no answers on defense.

That, said defensive end Mike Rucker, is unacceptable.

"You've got to answer back," Rucker said. "This is a heavyweight fight. It's 12 rounds and you can't stop till the match is over. We might have knocked them down early, but they came back and knocked us out. You've got to get back up and be able to fight all 12 rounds. They got the best of us."

The loss offset a terrific game by Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith.

Smith caught eight passes for 153 yards and three touchdowns, two of which were simply amazing grabs. The first came when Smith reached behind a Texans cornerback and tipped the ball into the air to himself. The second came when he broke no fewer than five tackles and raced the final 60 yards for a touchdown.

But the Panthers need someone else to step up.

Keary Colbert had three drops and running backs DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams combined for just 53 yards on 17 carries. Carolina finished with just 66 yards rushing one week after putting up 189 yards on the St. Louis Rams.

PLAYER NOTES

RB DeShaun Foster struggled to find holes on Sunday and was limited to 22 yards on nine carries.

QB Jake Delhomme had a strong statistical day, completing 27 of 41 passes for 307 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. However, Delhomme was victimized by some dropped balls and a simple lack of execution on the part of his teammates. He played well overall and now has six touchdown passes and just one pick through two games.

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

CB Dante Wesley injured his collarbone on Sunday. The team would not say if it is broken. If it is, look for the team re-sign Curtis Deloatch, who was been cut twice by Carolina already this season.

WR Keary Colbert dropped three passes on Sunday.

DE Stanley McClover (thigh) did not play.

DE Julius Peppers is off to a quiet start this season with only two tackles on Sunday. He has yet to register a sack.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

HOT TOPIC

After only two weeks of the regular season, there's only one thing the Saints can be happy about: that it's not any worse than what it is in the NFC South standings.

While they say they're not worried about what anyone else in the division is doing, the Saints are only one game out of the division lead going into their home opener next week against the Tennessee Titans despite being outscored 72-27 in getting off to a woeful 0-2 start.

Actually, they're correct. They have more things to worry about than the division race, considering they must find out why their once-potent offense is sputtering, why their defense continues to give up big plays -- especially against the pass -- and get their special teams in order as well.

The answers weren't coming from a silent locker room after the NFC South favorites and Super Bowl contenders dropped a 31-14 decision to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

Among the biggest things that need to be addressed are how the Saints gave up 62 unanswered points to the Indianapolis Colts and Bucs in less than five quarters of play and how the offense needed 21 possessions to score its first touchdown of the season.

But while the defense has been bad in allowing 11 pass plays of 24 yards or longer (including five that went for touchdowns), the offense has to shoulder most of the blame.

After turning the ball over three times in a 41-10 drubbing at the hands of the Colts, the Saints were just as bad offensively against the Bucs. They had three fumbles and two turnovers and went more than 30 yards on just one of their first eight possessions.

"Basically, what I told our team after the game is we've had no consistency in two games now offensively," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "We had balls on the ground, we're dropping passes, missing a block.

"You can't operate like that and be effective without 11 guys being on the same page," he said. "That's something we have got to correct or it's going to continue to bite us in the butt. As a result, that pressure now shifts to the defense."

They didn't fare much better against a Bucs offense that managed just two field goals in a season-opening loss to Seattle. But against the Saints, the Bucs looked like the offense Jon Gruden envisioned them being.

Jeff Garcia was 10-of-16 for 243 yards and touchdowns of 69 and 24 yards to Joey Galloway, and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams added a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs to give the Bucs a commanding 28-0 lead in the third period.

"This is very disheartening," Saints defensive tackle Brian Young said. "We're a better team than what we've shown the first couple of weeks. We need to find out what's going on and correct it in a hurry."

The problem is the problems aren't limited to just the offense and defense. Olindo Mare missed a 38-yard field goal and is now 1-of-3 this season. He also had a poor kickoff to start the second half.

"Defensively, offensively and on special teams I'm concerned," Payton said. "We've lost the first two games of the season and it hasn't been pretty."

PLAYER NOTES

TE Mark Campbell was put on injured reserve on Saturday with a disk problem in his back. Campbell was examined in Buffalo on Friday and Saints officials did not get the news they were hoping to get. Saints coach Sean Payton said Campbell will have arthroscopic surgery on his back and will likely be out for an extended period of time, so he was put on IR.

QB Tyler Palko was signed off the practice squad to take Campbell's spot on the 53-man active roster. Palko was designated as the third quarterback for Sunday's game with the Tampa Bay Bucs.

DT Brian Young returned to the starting lineup Sunday after missing all of training camp with a fractured right foot. Young played 28 snaps in the Saints' opener at Indianapolis.

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

WR Robert Meachem, the Saints' top draft pick this spring, was a healthy inactive for the second straight game.

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

CB Jason Craft was the nickel back against the Bucs.


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