Plays to Love, Plays to Hate highlights the plays that have a significant impact in swinging momentum and impacting the eventual outcome of the game. There’s always plenty to hate about NFL officiating, so we will only focus on the plays on the field, not the refs. Let’s review the momentum-shifting plays that caused the Panthers to cough up one of the most dispiriting losses in quite a while.
Three plays to love
Burns’ pressure = Donte’s second quarter pick: Atlanta’s passing game absolutely shredded the Panthers secondary throughout the first quarter but somehow only produced two field goals. Carolina led 7-6 at the beginning of the second quarter when Brian Burns pressured Matt Ryan into an errant pass which Donte Jackson intercepted at the Atlanta 40. The great field position led to a Panthers touchdown and what felt like a commanding 14-6 lead.
Franklin breaks up Julio’s second quarter touchdown: Carolina led 14-13 in with 1:17 left in the second quarter. Atlanta had the ball at the Carolina 16 and Julio Jones lined up wide left with Donte Jackson in man coverage. Julio ran a deep crossing route toward the back corner of the end zone and pulled away from Donte. Matt Ryan lofted a pretty pass that looked like a surefire touchdown, but Sam Franklin appeared from nowhere to break up the pass just as the ball arrived. Franklin never got his head around but somehow perfectly timed his move to punched the ball away from Julio. Franklin saved four points as the Falcons settled for a field goal to take a 16-14 halftime lead.
Chinn’s third quarter fake punt: Carolina’s offense had officially stagnated as the Panthers trailed 19-14 with 5:33 left in the third quarter. The Panthers offense faced a three-and-out as they stared down a fourth-and-9 from their own 32. Then, completely unexpectedly, Jeremy Chinn took a direct snap, bounced the run to the right, and cruised 28 yards to the Atlanta 40. The trick play was exactly what Carolina’s offense needed and they ultimately converted with a field goal to trim Atlanta’s lead to 19-17, but this field goal would be the only second half point the Panthers produced.
Three plays to hate
Panthers three-man rush fails in the first quarter: Carolina led 7-3 with 4:44 left in the first quarter. Atlanta faced a third-and-14 from the Panthers 41 which was outside of field goal
range on a rainy, slippery night. Defensive coordinator Phil Snow dialed up what is - in my humble opinion - the absolute worst defensive scheme in football, a three-man rush with eight defenders dropping into a deep, soft zone! Atlanta had two tight ends run short routes into the flats at the line of scrimmage, so Carolina had eight defenders dropping to cover three receivers running deeper routes. Well, those eight defenders forgot to cover Calvin Ridley (but they did a super good job staring at Matt Ryan and guarding empty space!) who picked up a 16-yard first down. Atlanta ultimately kicked a field goal to cut the Panthers early lead to 7-6.
Fourth down fail in the second quarter: The Panthers were nursing a 14-13 lead with 4:01 left in the second quarter and faced fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 34. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady dialed up a read-option for Teddy Bridgewater who kept the ball and ran off right tackle. Linebacker Foyesade Oluokun sniffed out the play and easily rode Teddy out of bounds for no gain and a turnover on downs. Atlanta ended up kicking a field goal on their next possession. A read-option might have been a good play call with Cam Newton in 2015, but not with Teddy Bridgewater in 2020.
Ryan looks like Mike Vick in the third quarter: Atlanta led 19-17 with 1:41 left in the third quarter. The Falcons offense was flirting with a three-and-out as they faced third-and-7 from their own 28. Matt Ryan dropped to pass, saw nobody open, and scrambled 10 yards for a first down. Instead of punting from deep in their own territory, Atlanta churned out an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive and a 25-17 fourth quarter lead (after a missed extra point) which proved to be the final score.
Closing it out and summing it up
For the first seven weeks of the season the Carolina Panthers delightfully surprised me with a 3-4 record and generally competent football. They had a couple of solid wins coupled with some competitive losses, which is more than we as fans can ask for given the circumstances. But my generally chill approach to this season of “it’s all good, this is a young team that’s learning long-term lessons” wore thin in this game.
This loss is squarely on Matt Rhule and Joe Brady. Good coaches make halftime adjustments. The Panthers offense made none. They were completely baffled trying to stop Atlanta’s pass rush. Carolina scored a total of three points in the second half, and those only came because of Jeremy Chinn’s fake punt to prevent a three-and-out. Additionally, play calling on fourth-and-short has been generally bad this year. In Week 1 Alex Armah was stuffed on fourth-and-1 with 1:22 left in the game to seal a Panthers loss. This week against the Falcons, Carolina failed on fourth-and-1 and fourth-and-2. Throw in the fact that Carolina went 2-for-10 on third downs against Atlanta, and Joe Brady needs to be better than this.
Defensively, Phil Snow is doing a pretty good job with a patchwork defense comprised largely of rookies, role players, and castaways. This island of misfit toys is beginning to resemble something of a functional community.
But losing has a way of seeping into a franchise and it’s hard to get rid of the stink once it starts permeating the facility. This was a concerning home loss against a very bad, very vulnerable divisional rival. Carolina has now lost three in a row with games coming up against the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so a five-game losing streak wouldn’t be a surprise. That’s not healthy no matter where a team is in its rebuilding efforts.
Now, I’m probably overreacting and in the big scheme of things a Week 8 loss to the Falcons won’t matter at all. But at least for me, this loss pretty much killed most the good juju from earlier in the season.
Which play to hate had the biggest impact on the Panthers loss?
This poll is closed
Panthers three-man rush fails in the first quarter
Fourth down fail in the second quarter
Ryan looks like Mike Vick in the third quarter