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Panthers fall flat again, lose to Falcons

Carolina New Year’s leaves their last chance of winning the NFC South in Atlanta

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

From all of us here at Cat Scratch Reader, let me wish you a happy new year. We’re going to begin 2018 with a hangover sized dose of optimism. Don’t worry, there will be plenty more coming tomorrow.

Letting the Falcons slip into the playoffs might not be what we had in mind for celebrating the end of 2017 but it is what we got. Yesterday’s game was once again a rough offensive performance for a team buoyed by a championship-caliber defense. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

What I liked. . .

Cam Newton - Extremely optimistic

I’m going to take a second to speak directly to Cam Newton: Buddy, that was a bad game. You know that. We know that. Why am I optimistic coming off such a bad game? We know you can be better. You know you can be better. It’s as simple as that. There is a lot of talk about coaches not doing a good enough job of preparing and/or focusing the team. I don’t know about all that. I do know that you won’t have trouble focusing for the playoffs and that you won’t have trouble leading your team. So, yeah, I’m optimistic about Cam Newton in the NFL playoffs.

Jairus Byrd - somewhat optimistic

Byrd stepped in to start for an injured Kurt Coleman and the defense hardly missed a beat. Coleman is expected to be ready for the playoffs. The Falcons did us a favor yesterday by teaching us that the Panthers’ depth at safety can hold it together against a strong passing team.

Cameron Artis-Payne - somewhat optimistic

A couple of ugly mistakes shouldn’t define a player, even if they do accurately represent an entire team on a given day. The exchange between Artis-Payne and Newton is something that will be addressed in practice this week, so let’s not get too worked up over something obvious that can be fixed.

When he did hold on to the ball, Artis-Payne looked like a strong and decisive runner between the tackles. He is a perfect backup to Jonathan Stewart, in other words. His stats are as unimpressive as anybody’s on the team, but that probably has more to do with Grady Jarrett stretching Amini Silatolu’s lunch into a four course meal than anything else.

Trai Turner - somewhat optimistic

Turner is expected to be back for the Saints game next Sunday. It is no coincidence that every game we have struggled in offensively has featured Turner struggling with an injury. The Panthers have a fighting chance against New Orleans with Trai back at right guard.

What I didn’t like. . .

That offense - extremely pessimistic

Look, I get that we have suffered a lot of losses at wide receiver. I understand that Jonathan Stewart is resting his wise old legs for the playoffs. I saw that Newton was having, charitably, an off day. We all know that Silatolu isn’t even a poor man’s Trai Turner. However, that doesn’t excuse what we saw yesterday. Nobody, anywhere, was open. Nobody, anywhere, had room to run. The Falcons only managed 22 points. That should be a beatable score, even for this battered Panthers squad.

Between Devin Funchess, Greg Olsen, Christian McCaffrey, and Cam, the Panthers have 4 threats to make a play on any given down. Throw in the random plays made by contributors like Ed Dickson, the ever competent Brenton Bersin, and the fresh legs of Artis-Payne and you have an offense. Carolina should have been able to manage more than 248 yards and two scoring drives.

Sure, Cam’s 3 picks hurt, but probably not more than the soporific efforts that led to Michael Palardy’s 7 punts - 5 of which came on drives that gained an average of 3 yards. If the Panthers are a ‘run first’ team then they sure as hell aren’t a ‘score first’ team.

What’s next. . .

Round 3 with the New Orleans Saints kicks off Sunday at 4:40 PM. The good news is that the previous losses don’t count any more. The bad news is that Alvin Kamara is still an unbelievably talented running back playing in an offense that understands how to maximize his skills. If Wilks knows how to contain Kamara then now is the time to prove it. If Shula actually knows how to use McCaffrey then now is the time to surprise the world. If the Panthers can demonstrate each of those things then this should be a Panthers win.

If they can’t? Well, we’ve seen Cam shoulder the team in a shoot out before and that’s what we can expect to see again. He has led a struggling and often unimpressive team to 11-5. I think Cam can keep up with one electric running back when his entire season is on the line.