Carolina Panthers: Winners and Losers in 30-28 Loss to the Atlanta Falcons
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The Cardiac Cats are back, but this time, they broke the hearts of Panthers fans instead of their opponents.
Somehow, the Carolina Panthers (1-3) snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, losing 30-28 to the Atlanta Falcons (4-0) on a 40-yard field goal by Matt Bryant with five seconds left in the game after downing a Brad Nortman punt at the 1-yard line with just over a minute left in the game.
The Panthers set a record with seven sacks on the afternoon, including Charles Johnson's career-high and -record 3.5 sacks of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, but they were ultimately burned by Ryan's ability to throw the deep ball to Roddy White.
White, who caught eight passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns, had none bigger than his 59-yard reception on the first play of Atlanta's game-winning drive in which the Falcons drove the ball 76 yards with no timeouts to set up the winning field goal.
Carolina's loss was made even more disappointing by the fact that it played its best game of the season in nearly every facet of the game.
The Panthers ran the ball 35 times for 199 yards, including 86 yards and a score by Cam Newton, who also completed 15-of-24 passes for 215 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
And for the first time in Newton's career, the Panthers lost a game in which "Super Cam" did not throw an interception and in which Carolina ran the ball more often than it passed.
Carolina's biggest weaknesses, though, were poor tackling and its inability to defend the deep pass.
Here is a look at the Carolina Panthers' winners and losers in their Week 4 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Though the Panthers did not get the win today, Cam Newton fits into the "winner" category for the way he bounced back after the worst performance of his professional career.
What grade would you give Cam Newton's performance?
Newton completed 15-of-24 pass attempts for 215 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, finishing the game with a 119.3 passer rating.
He also ran the ball for a career-high 86 yards on nine carries, including a 32-yard beauty around the left end on Carolina's first possession of the game and a four-yard touchdown run (his third of the season) on a quarterback draw.
Unfortunately, Newton could not pick up two yards when the Panthers needed them the most.
With the ball just past midfield inside the two-minute warning and an opportunity to put the game on ice, Newton came up short on 3rd-and-2, fumbling the ball backwards a yard (Panthers recovered) while diving forward to pick up the first down.
Carolina punted the ball instead of going for the game-clincher on 4th-and-1, and the rest is history.
However, Newton did his part to protect the football in the passing game, and he did nearly all he could to give Carolina a chance to win a tough game on the road.
Charles Johnson, who entered the game without a sack in the first three weeks of the season, was the Panthers' biggest winner against Atlanta.
Johnson, aka "Big Money," blocked a pass on the second play of the game, harassed Matt Ryan throughout the game and had a career-high 3.5 sacks on the day, breaking Julius Peppers' team-record three sacks in one game..
He would have had another sack if not for a facemask penalty on a fourth-quarter quarterback take down when he was reaching for any part of Ryan's body he could grab.
Johnson was disruptive throughout the game, and he finally played at a level worthy of his status as the NFL's highest-paid defensive end.
Johnson was the best player on the field for Carolina today.
Greg Olsen played well in a loss for the third time this season, racking up six catches for 89 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons.
Olsen now has 20 catches in four games for the Panthers and he has surpassed No. 2 wideout Brandon LaFell as Carolina's second-best receiver behind Steve Smith.
Hopefully, Olsen's success is not a sign of the Panthers' failure, though, since he had just one catch against the Saints in Week 2 in Carolina's only win of the season.
Carolina's offensive line deserves an honorable mention for rebounding from a pitiful Week 3 performance to play well against the Falcons.
The Panthers ran for 199 yards on 35 carries as Carolina controlled the line of scrimmage, but they also allowed three sacks, including a sack by John Abraham while facing a three-man rush on the game's final play.
Sherrod Martin needs to dust off his cleats because Haruki Nakamura may have just given him his position back as the Carolina Panthers' starting free safety.
Who should start at free safety in Week 5 vs. the Seahawks?
Nakamura, who intercepted a Matt Ryan pass in the end zone on the Falcons' second offensive possession, was repeatedly burned by Falcons wide receiver Roddy White.
Nakamura looked like a confused center fielder who lost the ball in the lights on White's longest two catches of the game: first on a 49-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter and later on White's 59-yard reception at the end of the game.
I realize that "tackling" is not a person, but it is an art. And the art of tackling was a big loser today in the Carolina Panthers' loss to the Falcons.
Carolina's defense was repeatedly gashed on running plays by Michael Turner (13 carries, 103 yards), not because they were necessarily out of position, but because they did not wrap up after the first, second and third contact was made with Atlanta's bruising back.
Turner opened the second half with a 60-yard touchdown reception—the first of his career—on a play in which Nakamura whiffed 30 yards downfield, and he went untouched the rest of the way.
Luke Kuechly, Jon Beason and Chris Gamble were also culprits of poor tackling throughout the game, and I would not be surprised if Sean McDermott's unit spends extra time participating in tackling drills this week as they prepare for the Seattle Seahawks.
Joe Adams falls into the "loser" category despite not playing a single down against the Falcons.
Adams, who was benched after fumbling twice on special teams against the Giants in Week 3, lost his punt return duties to Captain Munnerlyn and his kick return position to Kealoha Pilares.
Should Joe Adams get his punt and kick return duties back in Week 5?
Though Pilares did not do anything special in the kick return game—he returned two kicks for a total of 55 yards—Munnerlyn had Carolina's longest punt return of the season on a decisive 20-yard run back in the third quarter.
Most importantly, Carolina did not turn the ball over on special teams.
Munnerlyn looks like he could be the Panthers' answer at punt returner until Adams, who also had a bad case of "fumblitis" in college, is able to prove that he can hold onto the ball.
The Panthers head coach could have been the biggest winner of the game today if he had found the courage to go for the game-clinching first down on 4th-and-1 from midfield with less than two minutes to play in the game.
He also would have been the biggest loser if that attempt had come up short, but we will never know what could have been.
Should the Panthers have gone for it on 4th-and-1 from midfield?
After attempting to draw the Falcons offsides and running the clock down to a minute and 15 seconds to go, Rivera made the safe call and punted the ball away to Matt Ryan and the Falcons' offense.
Rivera looked like a genius when Carolina downed Nortman's punt at the 1-yard-line, but he did not take Atlanta's deep passing ability into account, and the Panthers suffered their most disappointing defeat of the season after nearly pulling off their biggest upset in years.
Brandon LaFell was nowhere to be found the Panthers' passing game today.
The Panthers' No. 2 receiver did not have a catch against the Falcons, and he could be looking over his shoulder at Kealoha Pilares and Armanti Edwards as they get more opportunities to play in the next couple of games.
His position could be even more in jeopardy when David Gettis returns from the injured reserve list after the Cowboys game on October 21.
Jimmy Grappone is a Featured Columnist covering the Carolina Panthers and the NFL on BleacherReport.com.
You can follow me on Twitter @jimmygrappone and be sure to check out my archives for more Panthers articles.
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