The Panthers’ MVP candidate had a day to forget in Atlanta and was not able to get anything working in the passing game as the Falcons’ defense did all it could to fluster Cam Newton. After an impressive first drive which ended in him rushing in for the score, Newton struggled to complete passes and generate much of anything offensively. He finished with just 147-yards passing on just a 56% completion percentage with an average of just 4.7-yards per completion. Newton was consistently flustered by the Falcons’ pressure and took very few shots downfield. His rushing total was more impressive with 46-yards on the ground and the lone Panthers touchdown. The offense had success moving the ball at times but on multiple occasions, stalled once they crossed the fifty and Newton took a few sacks that really hurt potential scoring drives.
The Panthers rushing attack was relatively successful with 155-total yards but the running backs had an interestingly small contribution. After a solid game last week, rookie Cameron Artis-Payne figured to be the featured back and in the first half he starred, showing excellent vision and burst once he saw the whole. But in the second half he oddly became a nonfactor and finished with just 49-yards on just five carries. Fozzy Whittaker started the game and was effective in limited action rushing for 32-yards on five carries and suffered a mild high ankle sprain which could sideline him for next week. With such solid production to start off it was curious why the Panthers seemed to abandon the run game.
With just 142-yards through the air there was not a lot to be had for the receiving corps who struggled in the few opportunities they got. The drop issues reared their ugly head again as Ted Ginn Jr., Philly Brown and Devin Funchess all had passes bounce off their hands, with a few coming on critical third down situations. The trio plus Jerricho Cotchery logged just eight total receptions for 72-yards. Of course, Newton’s inaccuracy on a number of throws also put a damper on this group’s production but regardless it was a step back for the Panthers receivers.
Veteran Greg Olsen led the team in all receiving categories but that by no means made it a good day for number 88. Olsen caught four passes for 40-yards and had a few miscues of his own. The veteran let at least one catchable pass tip off his hands in crunch time and overall had very little success separating from Falcons defenders and getting open.
For the second week in a row this normally sound offensive line had a dismal day in the trenches. They were a primary factor in the offense’s lack of production and it was clear almost from the get-go that Newton was out of rhythm due to the Falcons’ pressure up front. They allowed just two sacks and three quarterback hits but the film tells a different story as Newton was running for his life on more than a few plays throughout this contest. Right tackle Mike Remmers had a poor day in particular as he gave up three pressures and allowed Falcons’ defensive end Vic Beasley to strip Newton on the final play, ending the Panthers’ hopes for a comeback.
The stat sheet and the film tell two different tales here as well. On the scorecard, Kawann Short showed up big notching two sacks again versus Atlanta, giving him 11 on the year and the rest of the line combined for six quarterback hits. But the film suggested a much worse outing for this crew. They were able to disrupt the pocket from time to time but more often than not, Matt Ryan was able to escape and pick up yardage through the air. Against the ground game they had a fair amount of tackles for loss and held the Falcons to just 77-yards but Devonta Freeman still was able to do damage when they needed it.
In an abysmal day for the entire defense, even the top flight duo of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis couldn’t avoid criticism. Kuechly had one of the worst games of his career according to Pro Football Focus as he logged just the third lowest grade in his four year career as he badly missed two tackles and allowed all six passes in coverage opportunities. He was also one of two Panthers defending Julio Jones on the star receivers deep touchdown grab. Davis’ day was also subpar to say the least. He had just three tackles and although he had a few opportunities to blitz Ryan and take him down for a sack, they proved ineffective as the Falcons’ quarterback got the ball out just in time on each occasion. The lone bright spot from this unit and maybe the entire defense in this one was Shaq Thompson who had a solid five tackles and showed great recognition against the run.
Needless to say, it was not a good day for Josh Norman and company in Atlanta on Sunday. Ryan and the Falcons’ offense threw almost at will against this bunch as they clearly decided to attack through the air in this second meeting. Ryan finished with 306-yards with a 76% completion percentage and was able to connect time and time again with Jones, Roddy White and anybody else the Falcons had in open space. Jones had himself a textbook day, his best against the Panthers, and grabbed nine passes for 178-yards including his 70-yard touchdown catch. Norman wasn’t covering Jones for the entire contest but still allowed too much when he was and Kurt Coleman was the one responsible for the deep pass. The biggest blow this secondary was responsible for though was the Charles Tillman penalty on Atlanta’s opening drive that turned a three-and-out into a long scoring drive. No one could do much of anything right in the defensive backfield this time out and this secondary will have to shore up its leaks and holes in a hurry.
It was an average day for all special teams units in this one. Graham Gano hit both field goals from solid distances of 47 and 33 and Brad Nortman delivered a few booming punts, one of which was downed at the one yard line. The Falcons missed a field goal in the third quarter but it looked as though Shayne Graham simply shanked it as opposed to any Panthers getting a hand on it.