The Carolina Panthers (4-9) defeated the division-leading Atlanta Falcons (11-2) today 30-20 in a rematch of their Week 4 game that saw the Panthers lose a heartbreaker. This time the outcome was different as Carolina played hard on both sides of the ball and dealt their rival just their second loss of the season.
While the Panthers are indeed out of playoff contention, this was a huge victory for them as they move forward to the season finale in hopes of finishing strong. Cam Newton had a huge day and the Panthers defense was strong and impregnable in the first half.
There was really no reason for low marks for any unit or anyone after a game like this following a frustrating loss to the Kansas Chiefs last week.
Here are the final game grades for Week 14.
Final Game Grade: A
Newton continued his streak of staying turnover free and finished the day 23 of 35 for 287 yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, he rushed for 116 yards and a score to earn a quarterback rating of 110.1.
This was a huge game for him not only because the Panthers won but because this marked the first time he defeated the Falcons.
4th Quarter Grade: A
Newton hasn't had the same kind of flash he exhibited early in the game but he has still continued to make plays when they mattered most. His pass to Williams led to a long touchdown and gave the Panthers a little more cushion against a suddenly resurgent Falcons offense.
If anyone was excited to be lined up in a victory formation against the Atlanta Falcons, it was this young man.
3rd Quarter Grade: B+
It seems that the Cam Newton of last season has returned as he scored on a long 72 yard rushing play. He wasn't about to go out of bounds as he looked for the blocks and was able to somersault his way into the end zone. By doing so, he became the first Carolina quarterback to rush for 100 yards in a game.
2nd Quarter Grade: A-
Newton continued the same drive that was going well for the Panthers as the first quarter came to a close. While he was not especially sharp, he did pick up a nice first down after avoiding a sack and despite not being able to complete a touchdown pass to either Louis Murphy or Steve Smith, he did show great pocket presence. It might be safe to say he is maturing into a quality quarterback.
He hasn't been particularly sharp but he has done enough to put Carolina in scoring position. While he failed to connect on a couple of deep throws to the end zone, he showed good awareness and perhaps could have helped himself by putting some touch on those passes. It would have definitely helped on the throw to Murphy in which he was wide open but was overthrown.
The positive to take away from the first half is Newton was 17 of 25 for 178 yards and a score. His quarterback rating was an impressive 101.7. Obviously, he gets high marks for the first half and hopefully he continues this trend into the second half.
1st Quarter Grade: A+
Newton did it with his arm and feet on Carolina's opening drive. He was accurate (5 of 5) and with the aid of the running game was able to move the ball. He helped his cause by averaging almost 10 yards per completion. His touchdown throw to Greg Olsen on third down was a great play and proved why people shouldn't write him off just yet.
He picked up where he left off in the second series of the quarter by staying accurate and picking up a key first down on fourth down. It's still early to tell if the conversion will pay off but he did his part in the game's opening quarter.
Cam Newton has not been as explosive this season as he was in his rookie year, but he has played fairly well since Week 9.
During that time he has thrown for 1,232 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. He has given Carolina chances to win but only has two victories over that span.
Going into this week's game, Newton will eclipse 3,000 yards passing, and if he can at least average 250 yards passing the rest of the way, he should get close to his rookie mark of 4,051.
That wouldn't be too bad for a guy going through a sophomore slump.
Newton will be looking to get a measure of payback for the heartbreaking loss to the Falcons in Week 4. He only threw for 215 yards in their first meeting, but he did toss two touchdowns and did not throw a pick.
He will need to continue that trend and make sound decisions if he is to guide the Panthers to victory.
Final Grade: A
It seemed everyone played a part in Carolina's victory. The offensive line was outstanding; protecting Newton and helping the running game establish itself. It also did it's part to set up Carolina's final score on Williams long touchdown reception.
This will serve as motivational boost moving forward and should serve them well as they attempt to close out the season on a high note.
4th Quarter Grade: A
The Panthers offense seems to have been figured out as the Falcons aren't giving up too much on the ground and they are keeping the receivers in check. If Carolina can't score, then they need to take as much time off the clock as possible and make the game all about ball control.
DeAngelo Williams hasn't made much noise this season but his 53 yard touchdown reception was the boost Carolina needed and may have served as the final nail in the coffin for the Falcons as the Panthers increased their lead to 17.
3rd Quarter Grade: A
Carolina's first offensive series of the half was mostly the Cam Newton Show but without his teammates at the line or down the field, he doesn't score. The offense is perfect on five possessions having scored on each drive. Needless to say, the Falcons have to be stunned.
Too bad Steve Smith hasn't had more opportunities this season. The Panthers all-time leading receiver reach 100 yards receiving and was perhaps the best highlight late in third quarter. Despite the rapport he has with Newton, he can't make a play if he is not on the same page with him.
2nd Quarter Grade: B+
Much like Newton, the offense was not able to pick up another touchdown but the line did their part to hold off Atlanta defenders and open up running lanes for the running game to pick up some big yards. They may not have gotten the six after what was a great start to the series but they did put their team in a position to pick up more points and that is important.
Steve Smith is still proving to be an offensive weapon having caught a couple of balls from Newton that put him at 67 yards receiving on three receptions. Newton has been trying to connect with him deep for the score but has overthrown him. The good news is the Panthers were able to add to their point total but had to settle for a field goal after a false start penalty set them back. So far, they have 206 total yards and could possibly add to it before the half ends.
Carolina's offense may have only one touchdown to show for themselves in the first half but they did put themselves in a position to score on every possession. That will be important heading into the second half of football and Panthers fans should be feeling good about a 16-0 lead.
The key to the game has been time of possession. They have been the complete opposite of last week where the offense couldn't get on the field. This week they have a time of possession of 23:48.
1st Quarter Grade: A+
DeAngelo Williams ran hard on the Panthers first possession. The Panthers converted three times on third down with the last one of the series being a touchdown reception by Greg Olsen. Carolina needed to make a statement to open the game and they got started off on the right foot. They burned a lot of time off the clock in the first quarter helping set the tempo of the game.
It's too early to tell if Williams will reach 100 yards rushing but he is playing hard and taking advantage of his field time. The line is holding their blocks allowing both the running and passing games to continue moving the ball.
The offense has been pretty decent as of late, but it needs to be on the field. As shown in the Panthers' loss to Kansas City last week, if the offense is unable to get on the field, it makes it difficult for the team to win.
DeAngelo Williams, who was benched earlier in the season but has resumed starting duties in place of Jonathan Stewart, had a decent day in Week 4, with 49 yards rushing and one touchdown.
He averaged 4.5 yards a carry but only had 11 touches. It should be interesting to see if Carolina runs the ball more given the success it had in the first game.
The passing game will be vital to the team's success, as Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Greg Olsen will be called upon to give Newton multiple options. Olsen has been a beast and a reliable option in the offense, and LaFell has proven to be a capable down-field threat when he catches the ball.
Final Grade: A-
The first half defense was excellent. They shut out the Falcons through two plus quarters and allowed their offense to build a comfortable lead.
They did allow things to get a little close late in the game but Thomas Davis had a huge interception on fourth down that ended one drive and despite giving up a touchdown late, it would not matter as the Panthers would recover the on-side kick.
4th Quarter Grade: B+
The Panthers weren't too bad but they did allow the Falcons to score late in the game. The pass interference penalty didn't help any as it gave Atlanta first and goal at the goal line. The good thing was a lot of time was consumed and while the deficit was cut to 10, it did not seem to matter with less than a minute remaining.
3rd Quarter Grade: B-
The Falcons came out swinging early and despite picking up a couple of big gains through the air, the Carolina defense regrouped and once again found a way to shut down Ryan and bring up a punting situation. The pressure from up front is still there and unlikely to go away. That is four possessions and four punts for the Atlanta offense in the game.
There was no way the defense was going to shut out the Falcons and while the Panthers gave up the score they made Atlanta work for it. The key to the scoring play was the fourth down conversion inside the red zone. Fortunately, Carolina still holds a 23-7 lead and could burn the remaining minutes in the quarter.
Atlanta has started making some plays this half and the job of defense is becoming more and more important. Ryan has had his way with the secondary and once again it seems a weakness has been exposed. The important thing for the defense is to get the Falcons offense off the field and allow their offense to kill the clock.
2nd Quarter Grade: A+
The Carolina defense is taking advantage of the rest they are getting on the sidelines as they are continuing to stymie the Atlanta offense. The unit forced the Falcons into another punting situation and put the ball back into the hands of their offense. One has to wonder if they can continue their dominance.
Matt Ryan has not looked comfortable and the Carolina pass rush has forced him to either under throw some passes or check down. The substitutes have stepped up as DJ Campbell helped bring up fourth down and force the Falcons to punt. It should be noted the defense has held the Falcons at an average of 11.5 yards on third down making conversions for the Falcons to be a tough task.
1st Quarter Grade: A+
Carolina picked up where they left off in the first meeting with the Falcons by getting pressure on Matt Ryan. Frank Kearse had a sack as the secondary covered all of Ryan's targets giving Kearse the time needed to set the Falcons' offense back several yards.
The Panthers seem to have upset on their minds as they have been really effective on both sides of the ball early in the game.
The unit that had been playing well has struggled recently. If it's not their failure to stop the running game, it's their failure to get opponents off the field.
That was the case against the Chiefs last week, as the Panthers defense was unable to get the offense back on the field and allowed the Kansas City offense to be on the field for 37 minutes and 13 seconds.
The time of possession would ultimately be the difference in a 27-21 Chiefs triumph.
The key for the Panthers is to get their ends actively involved and pressure Matt Ryan all game long. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy have been up and down this season but have proven to be forces when they are firing on all cylinders.
One area to watch will be the subs at middle linebacker and cornerback, as both Luke Kuechly and Captain Munnerlyn weren't starting at their respective positions when the Panthers locked horns with the Falcons earlier in the season.
While the offense needs to do its part to help the team win, the defense will need to step it up if Carolina is to have any chance at upsetting its division rival.
Final Grade: A-
They were mostly quiet but came up big when they needed to late in the game. The kickoff return unit recovered the on-side kick and helped secure the Carolina victory.
Brad Nortman was a lot better in this game as his punts were deep with one pinning the Falcons inside their own 10. Graham Gano was perfect on all his kicks and helped assure the Panthers would emerge from the game with a win.
There is still a lot to be done with this unit but small steps are important on the road to improvement.
4th Quarter Grade: A
While the special teams unit was mostly silent, they came up big in the final seconds of the game as they assured Carolina took possession on the on-side kick. Their recovery allowed for the Panthers to set up their victory formation and run out the clock en rout to their fourth win of the season.
3rd Quarter Grade: B
The special teams continue to be a non-factor in the game and the only notable thing worth mentioning is the consistency with kicking field goals and extra points.
2nd Quarter Grade: A
This grade is mostly due to the Panthers ability to kick field goals and keep themselves ahead. Gano gets some kudos for being accurate and hopefully can make his role a more permanent one following the season. His last field goal of the half allowed Carolina to score for the first time in the final 2:00 of either half this season. Carolina was the only team in the league who had not done so prior to his kick.
1st Quarter Grade: B-
The special teams really haven't an early impact. Armond Smith made his season debut as Carolina's kick returner and gave the Panthers starting position at the 25. Joe Adams didn't impress on his only punt return of the quarter and Graham Gano converted the point after following the touchdown so it hasn't been too bad but not good either.
The most questionable unit for the Carolina Panthers this year has seen a change at coordinator, a new kicker and lots of frustrating moments.
While the Panthers tried to address special teams in the offseason, it has been fairly obvious that what they did wasn't enough.
Carolina needs to make sure it makes the most of its returns, kickoffs and punts against Atlanta. Football is a game of field position, and the last thing the Panthers need to do is give the Falcons offense decent field position.
Three players of note to watch are Armanti Edwards, Joe Adams and Graham Gano. Edwards and Adams have been handling return duties the last couple of weeks, and Gano will be trying to establish himself as the long-term solution at a position that has seen three different kickers since the release of John Kasay.
Final Grade: A-
They live to coach another day. It's not a far fetched conclusion to assume jobs would be at risk had the Panthers blown the lead and lost. Coach Rivera challenged when he needed to and won. The play calling by Rob Chudzinski was great even though he may have tried to revert back to the read option on occasion.
Sean McDermott's unit needs to be applauded for their efforts, especially in the first half because if they had not stopped the Atlanta offense, this game may have ended differently.
Overall, this was one of the best coached games of the year and if they continue to make the right calls and the Panthers execute the way they have the past few weeks, there is no reason to wonder if the coaching staff will be in place for 2013.
4th Quarter Grade: A
It seemed as though would be a moment when the Falcons would get back into the game and overtake the Panthers. Fortunately, for both the team and the coaching staff Carolina was not only to hold on but they managed to maintain a double digit lead and eventually leave the game with a 10 point advantage.
3rd Quarter Grade: B-
It's finally gut check time as the Falcons are drawing closer to the Panthers. Whatever was working earlier is not effective at this point in the game. Carolina needs to make adjustments and maintain ball control if they are to get out of this game with a win.
If they are unable to emerge victorious, expect a lot of scrutiny and ire directed towards the coaching staff entering the week.
2nd Quarter Grade: A+
The coaches have been making the right calls and as a result have a 16 point lead. The offense has scored on every possession in the half and the defense has kept the Falcons offense off the field. So far, this has been one of the best coached games of the season and aside from some penalties, has been nearly flawless.
1st Quarter Grade: A
The only questionable call of the quarter was probably calling Newton's number on the Panthers last third down conversion attempt of the quarter. However, they redeemed themselves with a fourth down conversion a play later. The coaching staff really needs a strong showing in this game and so far they are making some good calls.
The coaching staff may need to win this week if it is to maintain any hope of job security after the season ends. While prospects look bleak regardless of the outcome, a big win over the top team in the NFC would be a good start.
Ron Rivera has been on the hot seat for a while, and many have questioned his decision-making and have gone as far as to question whether or not he is the right choice to lead Carolina in the future.
Coordinators Rob Chudzinski and Sean McDermott have had their shares of scrutiny this season, too, though Chudzinski has received a lot more criticism due to the regression of the offense compared to a year ago.
Against the Falcons in Week 4, the coaching staff seemed to make good decisions until the final moments of the game, which allowed Atlanta to escape with the win.
Hopefully, that will not be the case in the season finale of this rivalry.