As Bad As Advertised

It was a mismatch on paper and a mismatch on grass. The NFC-leading Atlanta Falcons invaded Bank of America Stadium and stomped the Carolina Panthers, 31-10. It took the Panthers less than 10 minutes to fall behind by 14 points and the outcome was never in doubt after that.

Jonathan Stewart got the Panthers started on the wrong foot, fumbling on the game's first play from scrimmage. The Falcons recovered and needed just three plays to move 29 yards for an early 7-0 lead. A 4-yard pass from Matt Ryan to Tony Gonzalez capped off the drive.

Stewart redeemed himself as the game went on, rumbling for a season-high 133 rushing yards on just 18 carries. His backfield mate, Mike Goodson, also had a strong day, running nine times for 70 yards and scoring Carolina's lone touchdown on a nifty move from 13 yards out on the opening drive of the second half.

While Carolina's running game thrived (212 yards rushing, 7.6 ypc), its passing game was atrocious. Jimmy Clausen looked completely lost. He was sacked five times and never got into a rhythm. The Panthers finished with just 76 net passing yards despite the fact they were playing catch-up from the first quarter on.

LB James Anderson
Streeter Lecka/Getty
Like the passing game, Carolina's defense had a bad day. Ron Meeks' unit put up a strong effort, rebounding nicely after yielding touchdowns on Atlanta's first two drives, but the Falcons simply had too many playmakers for the Panthers to keep tabs on.

Michael Turner ran 28 times for 112 yards and three scores. Matt Ryan was quieter but equally efficient, hitting 20 of 34 passes for 227 yards. His favorite target was Roddy White, who caught eight balls for 79 yards, leaving him one reception shy of 100 on the season.

All things considered, the Panthers did an admirable job of keeping the Falcons' offense in check. Atlanta finished with a ho-hum 327 total net yards despite owning nearly a 10-minute edge in time of possession.

But, as has been the case all season, the Panthers lacked the talent and execution to make a game of it.

Cat Quicks

--Clausen threw an interception for the third consecutive week. This one was picked off by Mike Peterson, who also forced Stewart's fumble.

--Brandon LaFell tied his career high with six receptions, although he averaged just over 6 yards per catch.

--Armanti Edwards was used in the Mountaineer Package for one play in the first quarter. He threw complete to fellow rookie David Gettis, although the play went for no gain.

--The Panthers averaged almost exactly 3 yards per pass attempt. The Falcons averaged more than double that.

--Jon Beason, who played despite a knee injury, led the team with eight tackles. He also batted a Matt Ryan pass into the air, nearly resulting in an interception.

--Charles Johnson recorded a sack for the fourth consecutive game, boosting his team-best total to 8.5. Everette Brown also got in on the action, posting 1.5 sacks. It was the first time in his career Brown posted more than one sack in a game; his sacks came on consecutive plays, with the latter being split with Nick Hayden.

What should the Panthers do with Jimmy Clausen? Discuss in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and also a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. You can see more of his updates by following him on Twitter.

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