The Carolina Panthers (1-2) got off to their best start of the season against the Atlanta Falcons (2-1) today, taking their first 7-0 lead of the season after forcing a three-and-out and scoring on a five-play, 53-yard drive on their first possession.
Panthers defenders Luke Kuechly and Charles Johnson broke up passes on Atlanta's first two plays, and Johnson dropped Matt Ryan for a sack on third down.
Newton ran for 32 yards on Carolina's second offensive play from scrimmage, and he tossed a 17-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen three plays later.
The Falcons' offense responded on their second possession by moving the ball down the field with ease, but free safety Haruki Nakamura picked off Ryan's pass in the end zone to kill Atlanta's scoring.
That was as good as it would get for the Panthers' defense, though.
On the Falcons' third possession, Ryan hooked up with Roddy White for a 49-yard touchdown pass, who made Nakamura look like a confused center fielder losing the ball in the lights.
Steve Smith fumbled the ball after an 11-yard end-around run on the Panthers' next play and Matt Bryant kicked a 41-yard field goal to put the Falcons up, 10-7.
Carolina responded with a 79-yard drive in which DeAngelo Williams had three carries for over 10 yards, and No. 34 for the Panthers capped it off with a 13-yard touchdown run.
Atlanta came back with a scoring drive of its own late in the second quarter when Ryan found White in the end zone behind Nakamura for the second time in the first half.
Panthers Keys to the Second Half
The Carolina Panthers' defense needs to continue pressuring Matt Ryan as they have in the first half, but their zone coverage against Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez has allowed the Falcons to pick up passing yardage in big chunks.
The Falcons have also been able to run the ball at will against Carolina's front seven, but Sean McDermott cannot afford to put eight men in the box because of Atlanta's effective passing attack.
What is the biggest key for the Panthers in the second half?
Offensively, Carolina needs to continue to establish the run to set up the pass as they did during their two scoring possessions.
Cam Newton has not turned the ball over yet, and as long as he can avoid the big mental mistake and not turn the ball over, the Panthers have a chance to escape the Georgia Dome with an unexpected win.
Carolina will get the ball to start the second half.
Panthers Key Stats
Cam Newton: 9/13, 90 yards, TD; 3 carries, 40 yards
Greg Olsen: 4 catches, 37 yards, TD
DeAngelo Williams: 5 carries, 35 yards, TD
Charles Johnson: 2 sacks, 1 pass defensed
Falcons Key Stats
Matt Ryan: 13/20, 144 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
Roddy White: 6 catches, 97 yards, 2 TD
Tony Gonzalez: 3 catches, 33 yards
Michael Turner: 10 carries, 61 yards