NFC South Recap, Week 5

The Panthers are in a deep 0-5 hole, but they are hardly the only team in the NFC South with question marks. The Falcons are playing down to the level of the competition; the Saints are struggling to live up to their potential; and the Bucs are still walking the fine line between contender and pretender.

Atlanta Falcons

What went right? After a disappointing Week 1 loss to the Steelers in OT, the Falcons have rattled off four straight wins and have quietly moved into a tie with the Bears as the top team in the NFC. On Sunday, Roddy White's 45-yard TD reception gave the Falcons the lead midway through the third quarter. The defense and the running game took over from there and secured Mike Smith's team a 20-10 win in Cleveland. In Smith's three years as Atlanta's head coach, the Falcons are an impressive 20-1 when leading going into the fourth quarter.

What went wrong? Not a lot. Rookie LB Sean Weatherspoon injured his knee in the third quarter and didn't return. For the second straight week the special teams had a kick blocked. This week it was a 30-yard field goal attempt by Matt Bryant that the Browns deflected.

What question needs to be answered? With no dominant team in the NFC, the Falcons won't be able to win quietly much longer. How will they react to the pressure of the media attention that success brings?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

What went right? A lot. The Bucs, led by QB Josh Freeman, scored 10 points in the final 90 seconds to come from behind and steal a 24-21 road win in Cincinnati. Criticized after a poor performance against the Steelers in Week 3, Tampa Bay's DBs responded in a big way. Rookie safety Cody Grimm returned his first career pick for a TD. His fellow safety, Sabby Piscitelli, subbing for the injured Sean Jones, stole a Carson Palmer pass and returned it 31 yards to set up Connor Barth's game-winning field goal.

What went wrong? The defense is having trouble stopping the run. Cedric Benson ran for 144 yards, including five runs of 10 or more yards. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson's running game has some issues, too. Aside from a 61-yard run by Earnest Graham, Olson's unit gained 64 yards on 21 carries, barely 3 yards per carry. Not helping matters, veteran center Jeff Faine suffered a quadricep injury and will miss a few weeks.

What question needs to be answered? Are the Bucs a legitimate threat to make the playoffs? We will find out on Sunday when they host the Saints in a game that will be blacked out locally.

New Orleans Saints

What went right? It's hard to find a positive when the defending Super Bowl champions lose to a team starting an undrafted rookie QB in Max Hall.

What went wrong? It was said in this space last week that alarms would sound if the Saints lost any of their next three games. Those alarms are sounding ... loudly. The offense committed four turnovers, including three Drew Brees interceptions, and garnered only one TD from four trips into the red zone. To make matters worse, recently signed PK John Carney missed a 29-yard field goal. That's the same distance from which Garrett Hartley missed to trigger the signing of Carney.

What question needs to be answered? How will this year's Saints team respond to adversity? This three-game stretch against the Cardinals, Buccaneers and Browns seemed like a cakewalk. Now, Sean Payton's team finds itself looking up in the standings at both the Bucs and Falcons.

What are your thoughts on the NFC South? Discuss inside the message boards.

Michael Stolp is a graduate of Wilkes University with a degree in Communications. He grew up in Piscataway, N.J., and recently relocated to Charlotte, NC. To follow his personal blog, click here.

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