Falcons vs. Panthers: Carolina's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 14

Stephen FenechCorrespondent IDecember 9, 2012

Falcons vs. Panthers: Carolina's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 14

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    The Carolina Panthers dominated the Atlanta Falcons in Week 14, as they beat the NFC South leaders, 30-20. 

    The victory was the Panthers' fourth of the season and by far their most impressive. Prior to this game, the Panthers only victory against a team that currently has a winning record was against the Washington Redskins in Week 9. 

    Cam Newton had his best game of the season, as he shredded the Falcons defense through the air and on the ground. 

    It's games like these that give Panthers fans hope for the future because Newton looked unstoppable for the majority of the game. 

    This victory does not absolve the Panthers coaching staff from the criticism that they have been receiving, but it was refreshing to see Carolina finally close out a good football team. 

    Change is still likely on the horizon, but at least the Panthers will be playing hard until the final whistle blows. 

Winner: Cam Newton

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    Cam Newton had one of the best games of his season against the Atlanta Falcons. When it was all said and done, Newton had completed 23 of his 35 attempts for 287 yards and two touchdowns. 

    Cam posted his his fifth-highest quarterback rating on the season, as his 110.1 rating marked the sixth time that he posted a quarterback rating of over 100. 

    Newton also made a difference with his legs, as he posted 116 yards which is his season-high at this point. Cam broke off a 72-yard touchdown run, which was the longest of his career. 

    When he is at the top of his game, Cam can make plays that no one else in the league can. As he demonstrated numerous times against the Falcons, a play is never over when Newton is upright and in possession of the ball. 

    Newton is unique in terms of his size, speed and agility, as he is bigger than every defensive back that he comes into contact with. 

    The Falcons discovered how difficult it is to slow Newton down once he gets into a rhythm, and they cannot feel good about facing Newton twice a season for the foreseeable future. 

Loser: Panthers Secondary

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    While there were not many losers for the Carolina Panthers, their secondary struggled to keep Matt Ryan and the explosive Atlanta Falcons attack. 

    Since the Panthers led from start to finish, Ryan was forced to put the ball in the air 49 times, which was his third-highest total of the year. 

    Of his 49 attempts, Ryan completed 34 of them for 342 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

    Ryan's top two targets were Roddy White and Julio Jones, both of whom had touchdowns. White finished the game with nine catches for 117 yards, while Jones caught five passes for 66 yards. 

    The Falcons passing attack almost got them back into the game in the fourth quarter, as Jones caught a short pass and scored a touchdown to make it a 10-point game with 13:57 left. 

    The effort from the Panthers secondary should not be questioned, but it lacks the talent and experience to contain such explosive offensive weapons. 

    The front office will certainly address the secondary during the offseason, as they await the return of their best cornerback, Chris Gamble, at the start of next season. 

Winner: Steve Smith

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    Steve Smith doubled his production from his first game against the Atlanta Falcons, which was one of the key winners for the Carolina Panthers victory.

    The 12-year veteran was targeted 12 times against the Falcons, and he hauled in seven of those targets for 109 yards. 

    Smith looked quick and got open often, as he was clearly on the same page as Cam Newton. 

    Even though he is getting a little long in the tooth, Smith still has the speed and explosiveness to be the No. 1 option in the Panthers offense. 

    There is a direct correlation between the success of Smith and of the offense as a whole, as the Panthers have scored over 20 points in four of the five games in which he went over 100 receiving yards. 

Winner: Thomas Davis

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    Thomas Davis has played extremely well despite the fact that he has torn the ACL in his right knee three times. For an NFL player to overcome such injuries is unprecedented, which makes his strong play even more impressive.

    Davis compiled seven tackles and an interception against the Atlanta Falcons, as he made a major impact on the game. 

    What made Davis' interception more impressive was its timing, as he picked off Matt Ryan with 6:19 left in the fourth quarter. The interception essentially put the game on ice, as it gave the Panthers the ball with a 10-point lead late in the fourth quarter. 

    It was the third interception of his career and his first since 2009. 

    Now that Davis has finally been able to stay on the field, he has shown glimpses of the excellence that he displayed on a routine basis during the 2008 season.