It wasn't going to happen, and for the entire game Carolina never once held the lead!
They came to within three points of tying, or maybe they could have scored a touchdown to get the go ahead, but tonight was a Falcons team with two points to make: First, we're not the same old Falcons, and second, we are steaming mad over our loss last week in our house!
So now, here we are, and I am asking myself, is this the Panthers team that I was seeing early in the season?
I mean, there are no injuries going into this game against Atlanta. There have been no personnel changes, to my knowledge, to lay the blame there. No, this is the same Panthers team we were seeing earlier on in the season, with Jeff Otah's false start penalties, Jordan Gross's false start penalties, Steve Smith's dropped passes, and Jake Delhomme's errant passes.
To play like the Panthers played tonight, well, for every answer the Panthers tried to give Atlanta, the Falcons would make a statement.
The Panthers were just sinking in quicksand. With every valiant effort they would make, a penalty, dropped pass, or incomplete pass would negate their progress.
I knew going into this game it would not be a quick easy win for the Panthers, and I knew that like most of the better opponents the Panthers have faced, the wins don't come easy, and the losses hit hard.
This was the second worst loss suffered by the Panthers—the worst loss coming against the Buccaneers, 27-3. Still, it's only their third loss, which, on the whole, isn't bad by any means. But the rest of the NFC is creeping up on Carolina, and the Giants still lead the NFC, now tied with the Titans as both sport 10-1 records.
If this is the team that we have been led to believe is a Super Bowl team, then I have to say I am still waiting to see it. What I have seen is a team that is still finding its way and plays inconsistently from week to week.
For the last three game days—coming off the bye—the Panthers have been very inconsistent, playing quarters of football hot and cold. However, in their last two games they have found ways to win.
This team cannot afford to find ways to win with their upcoming opponents, and that started against the Falcons.
The Panthers' battle is uphill with very little room for error. They go to Green Bay next week, face the Buccaneers in Charlotte after that, and then host the Broncos. After that, they round out the season at the Meadowlands Sports Complex against the Giants and down in the Big Easy with the Saints.
Out of those five remaining games, the Panthers must win against Tampa Bay and New Orleans if they even want a chance at winning the division, so there are two games they must win. They must also win in Green Bay because, quite honestly, I fear they stand very little, if any, chance at beating the Giants. The Broncos aren't so much a must-win, because they are an AFC opponent.
So out of five games, the Panthers must win three in order to keep their hopes alive, and maybe have a shot at a wild card slot. If this is the rebirth of the 2003 Cardiac Cats, then they are proving that they may be just that, but there are still too many imperfections, and Carolina is not firing on all cylinders at the right times. There's a slight knock in the engine from time to time.
I have not given up on the Panthers, by any means. Their postseason hopes are still very much alive, but as usual, these nonsensical penalties and dropped passes must be nipped in the bud, or lessened at the very least.
The Falcons are not the same team as they have been in recent years, and I was very impressed by their defensive play making abilities. Some of those passes that were dropped by Steve Smith were in large part due to Atlanta defenders getting their hands—fingers, even—in there, tipping the ball just enough that it eluded the grip of the Panthers receiver.
Atlanta's defense also brought a lot of pressure time and time again on the Panthers offensive line and Jake Delhomme.
The Panthers' defense played a respectable game, but again, too many times they left the Atlanta receivers wide open on some of those bootleg plays, and even though Chris Gamble and Ken Lucas did a good job covering their receivers, the Panthers would have greatly benefited from an interception or two.
This week the Panthers need to put the loss to Atlanta behind them mentally, while keeping the bitter taste of that loss in their mouth. Going up to play in Green Bay will not be an easy task, and the Packers are playing really good football right now.
Hopefully the Panthers won't have too much turkey and stuffing over the upcoming holiday, because they will need fresh legs to keep up with Green Bay's speed and the magic that occurs every year around this time at Lambeau Field.
Happy holidays, everyone!