Though the Panthers won the first game 34-10 it was a lot closer than the score indicates. The Panthers clung to a 17-10 lead early into the 4th quarter before getting some breaks and a lucky roll of the dice from Riverboat Ron:
And they certainly aren't going to apologize for having a bounce go their way in the process. "We've had balls that didn't bounce our way for a couple years now," tight end Greg Olsen said. "You won't hear us apologize for that."
The Panthers held a 17-10 lead early in the fourth quarter when quarterback Cam Newton threw a pass to wide receiver Brandon LaFell on third-and-6 from the Atlanta 38-yard line. The ball was thrown just pass the outstretched arms of cornerback Asante Samuel, allowing LaFell to make the catch and turn upfield.
"I ran a 7-route, and he squatted on it; I thought he was going to pick the ball," LaFell said. "But Cam had good ball placement and put it outside just for me to catch it. I thought it was smooth sailing."
As LaFell sprinted toward the end zone, Samuel chased him down and popped the ball out of his hands.
"I'm watching the ball bounce and I'm just praying it bounces back to me," LaFell said. "Luckily, it did."
And luckily, LaFell held on.
"They were trying to poke me in the eyes, grabbing here and there," Lafell said. "But I wouldn't let that ball go." LaFell gathered the loose ball at the Atlanta 8-yard line for a 30-yard gain. On the next play, Newton ran off right end for a touchdown to give Carolina a 24-10 lead.
So as much as I would love a blow out I think it will be a close game for three quarters.
When the Falcons have the ball:
We have some of the obvious match-ups on this side of the ball.
DE Greg Hardy is coming off a huge game and faces yet another struggling LT in second year player Lamar Holmes. Holmes has made it through the season that is about as much as you can say for the guy. He started the season at RT but was moved over to the left after Sam Baker went down for the year which has happened since these teams last squared off. Holmes has not lined up on Hardy so he will have his hands full.
Roddy White is finally healthy and coming off his best game of the season. You can rest assured the Falcons will try to feed him the ball regularly with both short and long passes. I'm sure you recall those games from last season when White feasted on the Panthers secondary. I expect the Panthers to counter White with Captain Munnerlyn applying the short, press coverage with Mike Mitchell providing support over the top.
Tony Gonzales vs. Luke Kuechly
Gonzales had a nice game in the first match hauling 6 catches for 81 yards and a score, all in the 1st half. Gonzo was essentially eating our lunch, though Kuechly did get a really nice INT. The Panther adjusted at halftime and shut the future Pro Bowler down. Expect the same kind of emphasis on the TE as the Falcons try to send Gonzo into retirement with a bang (Finally!!!).
When the Panthers have the ball:
Based on how the 49ers were able to run over the Falcons last week I would expect the Panthers to try and do the same this week, especially with Corey Peters being done for the season. The Panthers had a fair amount of success running the ball in the last game (131 yds) but no one player had more than 50 as they spread the carries around. Though RB Jonathan Stewart won't play expect to see both DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert to see a fair share of carries.
Jerry has been mostly a disappointment since being selected in the 1st round in the 2009 draft. He certainly isn't the run stopper they expected. With Corey Peters done for the year I see the Panthers running right at Jerry behind Wharton or at least hitting that left edge often. The 49ers controlled the edges very well last week so Wharton may also pull a good bit at C Ryan Kalil minimizes Jerry.
Once the Panthers running game gets going expect the Panthers to attack the middle of the field with Olsen up against Worrilow or Dent. Dent started against the Panthers in the last game but has since been benched in favor of the much more productive Worrilow. It won't matter, I expect Oslen to have a big game as Newton's #1 target with Steve Smith nursing a tender knee.
Ginn has made some big catches the past couple of weeks and we will need him to make a few more this Sunday. Whether it's McClain or the rookie Trufant look for the Panthers to target Ginn early on some short routes to set up the deep dig or crossing routes later.
Panthers 30 Falcons 16