The Big Mo series highlights the plays (or series of plays) that had the biggest impact on swinging the Panthers win percentage as calculated by ESPN. In Week 8 Carolina secured a big 19-13 win in Atlanta thanks to four Zane Gonzalez kicks and two big picks by Shaq Thompson and Stephon Gilmore.
The expected win percentage largely favored the Falcons for the better part of the first three quarters, but the Panthers took over in the fourth. Here are the biggest plays that swung momentum in Carolina’s favor.
First quarter 15:00 - Panthers 0, Falcons 0
Chuba’s first play fumble (51% to 41% Panthers win percentage): On the game’s very first play from scrimmage, Chuba Hubbard lost a fumble. Atlanta took possession at the Carolina 26 and produced a field goal and a quick 3-0 lead. Carolina’s win percentage dropped 10 points to 41%.
First quarter 0:28 - Panthers 3, Falcons 3
Falcons convert on third-and-5 to set up a touchdown (41% to 31% Panthers win percentage): Atlanta faced third-and-5 from the Carolina 30. Tajae Sharpe found a soft spot in the zone between Jermaine Carter and AJ Bouye and picked up seven crucial yards. Instead of facing a 47-yard field goal, the Falcons had a new set of downs. Three plays later Atlanta scored a touchdown to take a 10-3 lead and a 69% win percentage.
Second quarter 3:41 - Panthers 6, Falcons 10
Shaq’s huge interception (28% to 40% Panthers win percentage): Late in the second quarter, Atlanta had driven down to the Carolina 24. The Falcons already led 10-6 and another score here would put them squarely in the driver’s seat. On second-and-8 Shaq Thompson dropped into coverage, read Matt Ryan’s eyes, and expertly undercut a route for a clutch interception. Shaq likely took points off the board from the Falcons and caused the Panthers dwindling win percentage to jump 12 points back to 40%.
Fourth quarter 14:15 - Panthers 12, Falcons 10
Falcons commit back-to-back blunders (45% to 70% Panthers win percentage): Early in the fourth quarter the Panthers led 12-10. Atlanta had the ball at the Carolina 27 facing third-and-2 when Kyle Pitts dropped a tough but catchable ball deep down the sideline. Atlanta played it safe by going for the field goal and a potential one-point lead, but Younghoe Koo missed the 45-yard attempt. Carolina took possession after the missed field goal as their win percentage spiked from 45% to 70%.
From there the Panthers would score a touchdown for a 19-10 lead with 6:30 left to play. Stephon Gilmore, in his first game as a Panther, would then virtually ice the game with a clutch interception with 1:53 left and the Falcons in field goal range at the Carolina 30. Welcome to Carolina, Mr. Gilmore.
Big Mo MVP - Shaq Thompson
Boy what a difference it makes to have Shaq back on the field. His clutch second quarter interception was one of the biggest momentum-shifting plays of the game. After missing the last three games, he returned for this NFC South showdown to finish with a team-high 10 tackles, including a tackle for a loss. Thompson was all over the field, making big plays at key times.
What I liked
- Ameer Abudllah looking frisky as both a runner and receiver. He showed some burst on his eight carries for 31 yards and had some big catches on his three receptions for 35 yards. Carolina might have found a contributor here.
- Zane Gonzalez going 4-for-4 on field goal attempts, including bombs from 51 and a career-long 57 yards.
- The Panthers fourth quarter 15-play touchdown drive to go up 19-10 with conversions on third-and-1, third-and-6 (pass to Ameer Abdullah), and third-and-9 (scramble by Sam Darnold).
- Getting Shaq Thompson and Stephon Gilmore on the field in the same game. Both of them came up with big interceptions, Shaq’s to turn momentum in the first half and Stephon Gilmore to put the game away.
What I didn’t like
- Over the last 10 games Joe Brady’s offense has scored the following points in the third quarter: 0, 0, 0, 0, 7, 0, 0, 0, 0, 3. I’m going to continue to post this stat every week until the offense scores a third quarter touchdown.
- Chuba Hubbard losing a fumble on the first play of the game, leading to a Falcons field goal. It just started the game off with a sense of doom.
- Joe Brady calling a pass play when PJ Walker subbed in for an injured Sam Darnold with 6:53 left in the game. PJ handed off on his first play, then Brady got way too cute by calling a pass on his ice cold backup quarterback’s second play. Not surprisingly, PJ forced an ill-advised throw into the end zone that was nearly intercepted. Next time, Joe Brady, please just run it in.
- A cheap roughing the passer call on Brian Burns late in the game to set up an Atlanta field goal to narrow the Panthers lead to 19-13 with 16 seconds left. Burns was pursuing Matt Ryan from behind as Ryan fled from him. Burns basically dove for Ryan’s feet right as the Falcons quarterback released the ball. I’m all for protecting quarterbacks, but I don’t know how you can expect Burns to hold up when he’s already airborne for a would-be sack and Ryan releases a ball a fraction of a second before contact is made.
It feels good to disperse the lingering stink of a four-game losing streak. The Panthers now sit with a respectable 4-4 record with a home game against the New England Patriots up next. The health of Sam Darnold and potential return of Christian McCaffrey will factor heavily into Carolina’s chances of getting back above .500.