Falcons at Panthers: Atlanta's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 14

Joe MacContributor IIDecember 9, 2012

Falcons at Panthers: Atlanta's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 14

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    Just before the conclusion of the game, though the outcome was evident, I tweeted the following:

    Atlanta had survived most of the season by overcoming their biggest weaknesses and outplaying some of their abilities.

    Atlanta’s knack for winning despite its own issues came to an end in its second meeting with the Carolina Panthers this season.

     In many ways the Falcons were dominated from the opening kick.

    With a lackluster, completely unproductive, first half and a too-little-too-late push in the second half, the Falcons fell to the Panthers by a score of 30-20 in a game that was that close.

    While the majority of what the Falcons produced in the game was poor, they did have some positive aspects come through.

    With Week 14 in the books, here are the Falcons’ biggest winners and losers from the Carolina game.  

Loser: Defense

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    The big play was never made.

    The crucial stop never happened.

    In many ways, the Falcons defense Sunday mimicked the 2011 version that simply could not get off the field, using any method, in crucial situations.

    There was little resistance against the run and almost no resistance against the pass.

    The pass rush was nonexistent the entire ball game.

    When the clock struck zeros, Carolina had soundly defeated Atlanta behind a big day from quarterback Cam Newton and wide receiver Steve Smith.

    Newton combined for 413 yards of total offense with three touchdowns and 116 rushing with one touchdown. He provided the Panthers a comfortable margin on the game’s biggest play on his 73-yard rushing touchdown on the Panthers' opening drive of the second half.

    Smith meanwhile, while not getting into the end zone, had as big an impact keeping numerous Panther drives alive with big catch after big catch. Smith finished the day with 109 yards on seven catches.

    The game was decided when Newton connected on a 53-yard screen pass to running back DeAngelo Williams for the Panthers' final score.

Winner: Passing Game

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    Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Jacquizz Rodgers very nearly willed the Falcons to an improbable comeback against the Panthers.

    Taking out Ryan’s 342 yards passing, White, Jones, Gonzalez and Rodgers combined for 300 of the Falcons’ 362 total yards of offense.

    Roddy and Julio had the Falcons’ only meaningful touchdowns.

    With the any threat of a run game being shelved at halftime and despite much help from the offensive line, the Falcons battled to the end through the air.

    A little better protection at crucial points in the game and this crew may have very well had Atlanta sitting at 12-1.    

Loser: First-Half Offense

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    The Falcons’ offense looked as bad as I can remember in the Mike Smith era in the first half.

    Atlanta had nothing working running only 13 plays and gaining just 35 yards for the half.

    Carolina deserves a great deal of credit for the Falcons’ first half offensive woes. The Panthers blanketed Falcon’s receivers and pressured Ryan on each throw. There was nothing for the Falcons to be had.

    As poorly as the Falcons played, the Panthers played that well. Carolina played a superb first half and built what would end up being an insurmountable 23-0 halftime lead.

Winner: Second-Half Offense

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    The Falcons offense almost matched its entire first-half yardage on the opening drive of the second half alone with 31 yards.

    From there, the offense kept pace until a late-game pressure-induced interception ended any legitimate threat.

    The pick notwithstanding, Ryan and company very nearly pulled off what would have been a monumental achievement in the NFL, a come-from-behind victory after trailing by 23 points. Only 18 times in NFL history has a team come from more than 20 points down to win the game.

    Not counting their final drive of 80 yards and a touchdown, the outcome was decided; the Falcons had 237 yards of offense and two touchdowns in the second half.

    While not enough to win the game, it was a marked improvement over their putrid performance in the first half.

Loser: Offensive Line

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    Atlanta’s offensive line woes continue to be the team's biggest issue.

    Numerous times against Carolina, the Falcons offense was stymied up front leading directly to the inability to stay with the Panthers.

    Though Ryan was only sacked twice, the offensive line was again the point most prevalent point of weakness for the offense.

    Ryan was under some form of pressure most of the day, resulting in the poor first half and leading directly to his fourth-quarter interception.

    At the end of the day, Atlanta had too much to overcome up front offensively to finish was was shaping up to be a great comeback win.