Panthers vs. Falcons Aftermath

If the Panthers are to make a run at the NFC playoffs, they're going to need some better play from their offensive line over the final two weeks.<br><br> In the last four games, the Panthers have allowed 14 sacks, including four in Saturday night's 34-31 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.<br><br> Two of those sacks resulted in blind-side hits on quarterback Jake Delhomme, who turned it over both times on fumbles.<br><br>

Before the last four games, the Panthers had allowed just 12 sacks in their first 10 games.

The Panthers have kept the same offensive line intact for the last eight games with the exception of starting Matt Willig over Todd Fordham at right tackle the last two weeks. Willig has been adequate at best, and it remains a position the team will need to fill in next year's NFL draft, possibly even in the first round, or at least in free agency.

Center Jeff Mitchell made it through Saturday night's game despite a knee sprain. He did miss two plays but returned.

Rich Tylski did a nice job filling in at center as the Panthers completed two passes for first downs before Mitchell returned.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The last three outings against the Atlanta Falcons have not turned out well for Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme.

Delhomme has thrown three costly interceptions against the Falcons, two of them in overtime, as Carolina has now lost three straight to their NFC South rivals.

On Saturday night, Delhomme overthrew receiver Ricky Proehl on third down and it was picked off by Aaron Beasley, who returned it 30 yards to the Carolina 23, setting up Jay Feely's winning field goal in overtime.

"I felt good all game, and we felt good about what we're doing in the passing game," said Delhomme, who threw for 340 yards and two touchdowns. "That's disappointing and frustrating because you feel like you let your teammates down. That's not too good of a feeling."

Last year, a Delhomme pass was intercepted by cornerback Kevin Mathis, who returned the ball for a touchdown to beat the Panthers 20-14 in overtime at the Georgia Dome. Earlier this year at Bank of America Stadium, Mathis again picked Delhomme and returned it for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to break open a tight game.

--At this point, you'd think by now that nothing Michael Vick does would surprise the Carolina Panthers.

Think again.

On Saturday night, Vick defied logic -- as well as gravity -- when he scampered up the middle for a 12-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal, diving over the goal line with 1:37 left in regulation. That sent the game into overtime, where the Falcons beat the Panthers 34-31 on a Jay Feely field goal.

Afterward, Panthers safety Mike Minter could only shake his head incredulously at the play in which Vick seemed to glide above the field for the final few yards like Superman without his knee touching the ground.

"I still don't understand how this man can be about two centimeters away from the ground for about four yards and not come down and have his knee hit the ground," Minter said. "I mean, that right there is just unbelievable."

Vick is 5-0 as a starter against the Panthers.

--Nick Goings' bid to become the first Carolina running back to rush for 100 yards in five straight games fell short. Goings finished with 61 yards on 24 carries. Goings did rush for one touchdown and had three grabs for 29 yards.

"They really did a nice job against the run tonight," Goings said of the Falcons.

--CB Chris Gamble has a rough outing Saturday night, allowing two touchdown passes to two unheralded receivers -- Brian Finneran and Dez White.

On the second one, Gamble gambled by taking the inside route and just missed an interception.

--WR Muhsin Muhammad did little to hurt his chances of making it back to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl with yet another strong showing on national television.

Muhammad had 10 catches for 135 yards and nabbed a franchise-record-tying 12th touchdown reception. But after the game, Muhammad could care less about the Pro Bowl or tying the team record held by Patrick Jeffers and Wesley Walls.

"Personal stats mean nothing," Muhammad said. "I'm playing for Super Bowls. Anything short of that now is meaningless."

--DE Mike Rucker said he's proud of the way the Panthers fought back twice from double-digit deficits.

"There's no quit in this team," Rucker said. "I think we showed that today. Yeah, it hurts more when you have a few opportunities to put it away and you don't. It stings bad. But we have keep our head up and keep moving forward and let the chips fall where they may."

--C Jeff Mitchell is expected to start this week against Tampa Bay. He left Saturday night's game briefly after re-injuring his knee, but he should be fine with a week's rest.

--WR Muhsin Muhammad has five 100-yard receiving games and 10 touchdowns in his last eight games.

--DE Al Wallace got his first sack of the season against the Falcons.

--TE Kris Mangum had his best game of the season with four catches for 53 yards against the Falcons.

--RT Matt Willig started for the second straight week ahead of Todd Fordham.

--PR Jamall Broussard could lose his job after fumbling a punt Saturday night.


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