** Carolina’s defense. How can the Panthers allow 45 points to anyone in the NFL, including an astonishing 28 in the fourth quarter?
That’s absolutely embarrassing. The Panthers had poor tackling, not nearly enough of a pass rush and couldn’t get off the field on third down when it counted.
The defense also allowed Michael Turner to score 4 TDs, including on a critical fourth-and-goal from the 1 late in the fourth quarter and then an “in-your-face” score on another fourth down with 54 seconds to go. And where was Julius Peppers in this game, anyway?
** The Panthers’ punt coverage. After generally being good all season, the Panthers allowed a punt return TD to Atlanta’s Harry Douglas (who had an unbelievable game, see the blog post previous to this one).
** Carolina’s extremely s-l-o-w start. Spotting any good team a 17-0 lead is just asking for it. Atlanta scored on its first 3 possessions – two TDs and a FG – to set the tone for this game. The rest was a long slog back for the Panthers, who got within 17-13 and 24-21 at different points in the second half but just ran out of gas. The Panthers’ offense was actually pretty good after that horrible start – 28 points will win you a game in the NFL most of the time – but not good enough.
** Dropped balls and penalties. Steve Smith had a generally excellent day, but he also dropped two passes. Muhsin Muhammad had a couple of balls he could have come up with but didn’t. And there were others. The Panthers’ red-zone offense could have been a lot better – they had to settle for one John Kasay field goal after a first-and-goal from the 1.
Bottom line: Terrible day for Carolina. I predicted they'd lose, but by a field goal, not by 17. I didn't foresee this sort of meltdown, especially on defense.
The Panthers drop to 8-3 and, while tied with Tampa Bay for first in the NFC South, would lose the tiebreaker at this moment based on an earlier defeat at the hands of the Bucs. Atlanta, 7-4, lurks only a game behind.