Well, at least the talk of an undefeated season is over, which could end up being a blessing in disguise.
The game started in typical 2015 Panthers fashion, as Cam Newton lead the offense down the field for an 80 yard touchdown drive. Cam ran in a touchdown to put the Panthers up by 7. However, unlike the last two games the Falcons responded, as Matt Ryan lead a touchdown drive of his own, ending with a Devonte Freeman touchdown run. Following the opening two series the Panthers and Falcons traded off long but ultimately scoreless drives for the rest of the first half. Both teams struggled with fending off the pressure on passing plays and both teams had problems at times running the ball. Going into the 3rd Atlanta drove down the field for a field goal try but Shayne Graham shanked it. The Panthers responded with a drive of their own that fizzled out, but Graham Gano nailed the field goal for Carolina, putting them up 10-7. After the Falcons got the ball back, in a 3rd and 13 situation, Ryan threw a BOMB to Julio Jones in double coverage. Unfortunately Kurt Coleman slipped so Luke Kuechly was tasked with playing the ball against one of the best receivers in the game. That didn't go so well.
The Panthers caught a break after continuing to struggle on offense when Matt Ryan missed a snap from center in the fourth quarter. The ball was picked up by Josh Norman and put the Panthers in field goal range. Unfortunately, the offense sputtered out once again as Graham Gano made another field goal. The Falcons drove the ball down on the following possession to set up a field goal that Shayne Graham actually made, giving Cam and the offense an opportunity to score a touchdown and take the lead with just over 2 minutes on the clock. But instead of the offense we've seen move effortlessly down the field in crunch time, we saw the same one that struggled all game as the Panthers couldn't convert on a fourth down. Inexplicably, the Falcons somehow allowed Carolina to get the ball back after penalties stopped the clock, but the pass protection let Newton down by allowing him to be strip sacked on the Panthers final chance.
Cam Newton played about as good as you could ask considering the fact that his pass protection and receivers let him down all game long. The run game looked good on paper but struggled at times when Cam needed some help. Things will improve for the running game once Stewart returns, but the offensive line as a whole struggled against what is quite honestly a mediocre Atlanta front seven.
On defense Kawann Short had two sacks and they limited the Falcons to 20 points, which with an offense averaging 30+ per game that should be good enough. However, the defense allowed Julio Jones to get open and make catches all day and allowed wide open holes at times for Freeman. The defense usually tightened up in the redzone, but they allowed uncharacteristically long drives all game long. Props to Matt Ryan, who stood in the pocket and delivered very good throws with pressure in his face all game. Really, the Panthers stunk on offense and defense at times. There were plenty of bright spots, but this isn't the typical squad we've seen for the last 14 games.
It might be a blessing in disguise for the Panthers to finally drop one. Next week they can still clinch home field advantage with a win or a loss by the Cardinals in either of their last two games. So as far as losses go, this is about the best timing you could ask for. The Panthers clearly struggled with mental issues last week against the Giants and the team looked very sluggish today. This is the same team that shut out the Falcons two weeks ago. While the Falcons played much better in nearly every facet, this team can still be successful. They likely needed this reality check before the playoffs, because three weeks from now if the team floundered as it did today there wouldn't be a future to talk about. This Panthers team had handled adversity very well all year, a wake up cal might be just what the doctor ordered. Remember, most of the guys on this team are very young and it's really all about the mental aspect in the playoffs. The team's response to this setback is crucial.
This sucks, but the Panthers have time to turn their mindset around, and not let this loss impact a truly magical season. Keep Pounding everyone, see you all next week.