Exorcising the Demons

The last time Muhsin Muhammad faced the Atlanta Falcons, he was the focus of Carolina Panther fans. Was it because of his excellent size he uses to dominate smaller corners? Or was it because of his excellent receiving abilities? It was neither.

Muhsin Muhammad was singled out due to stopping on a route which resulted in a game-ending interception on a Sunday night game in Atlanta. The Carolina Panthers and number 87 hoped to turn his luck around yesterday when the Carolina Panthers hosted the Atlanta Falcons.

While the Panthers would eventually lose the game, Muhsin seemed able to get out of his Falcon-slump. If you could give a Player-of-the-Game award to the losing team, Muhsin Muhammad would be the recipient. In Sunday's contest versus Atlanta, Muhammad posted 7 catches for 114 yards going against Atlanta's Kevin Mathis.

The Moose had a definite size advantage in this match-up, as the 5'9 Mathis gave up five inches and 30 pounds on the Panthers' bulky receiver. Jake Delhomme constantly worked up over Mathis's head, allowing Moose to use his height and leaping ability to snag the football. Sometimes it wasn't just Mathis; Moose caught two passes in tight double coverage, both of them over the heads of all three players. One of these plays got Muhammad to the Atlanta 2-yard line, setting up a Panther touchdown to tie the game. Most of the passes to Muhammad forced him to jump to haul them in, all but putting Mathis, or any other corner, out of play.

The bad news was that some of those high balls put Muhammad out of play as well. He had a few passes that were a bit high, but he was unable to haul in. The biggest blow, however, came when Moose fought for extra yards early in the first quarter, giving up a fumble that resulted in a Falcon touchdown. It was a blow from which the Panthers never recovered, but as one game caller said, "He isn't the one that gave up the points." When the Falcons went up 7-0, they never looked back.

Late in the second quarter, with the Panthers down 13-7, Moose found a hole in the Falcon's zone defense, and Delhomme was able to get Muhammad for a 25 yard gain, which would get the Panthers in good field position for a score before the half. However, the Falcons defense forced a fourth-and-1, and John Fox decided to go for it. While "up the middle" is a typical call in a situation like that, DeShaun Foster bounced outside, and Moose showed his ability as a blocker, freeing Foster up for a huge gain and setting up a Carolina field goal that ended the first half scoring.

In the second half, Muhsin was limited in his action. After getting free and finding soft zone spots, the Falcon defense was near Muhammad at all times. He was able to get short gains on three catches, two for seven yards and one for eleven.

The big action came when Muhammad was singled out by Delhomme to haul in a touchdown pass to help shorten the lead late in the fourth. Three passes went to Muhammad in the endzone, all three of them incomplete. The second was almost uncatchable, and the third was knocked out of Muhammad's hands and off of his shoulder pad on fourth down, cementing a Falcon victory. The questionable call was the first pass. On the field, it was initially ruled and incomplete pass, although replay on the networks showed possession with his hands, and both feet touched the ground before an Atlanta corner knocked the ball out. The referees didn't see it that way after a John Fox challenge, however, and the original call stood, much to the chagrin of Panther fans in attendance.

Maybe now Muhammad can be remembered for playing a good physical game against Atlanta, instead the memory of the "stopped-short route."

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