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Atlanta's Corey Peters picks off a screen pass intended for the Panthers' DeAngelo Williams (34).
In order to not be completely subjective or objective, I graded Newton's performance based on the following eight criteria and I attempted to take his entire performance into account instead of focusing solely on his performance late in the game.
Newton (21-35, 237 yards, zero touchdowns) completed 60.0 percent of his passes in Sunday's game against the Falcons. He threw the ball pretty accurately except when he threw interceptions, and they were more the result of unawareness than inaccuracy. Most of Newton's successful throws were underneath routes to his tight ends and receivers, though, and he rarely looked very far downfield. I was disappointed he did not attempt any of his patented deep passes to Steve Smith, which Panthers fans have become accustomed to seeing.
Moving the chains
The Panthers moved the ball well for the first three quarters and they had as many first downs (24) as the Falcons, but most of their yardage came on lengthy drives in the first three quarters before they hit a second-half lull. The Panthers went three-and-out on consecutive possessions, followed by a first-down run by Williams and a Newton interception pass to defensive lineman Corey Peters on consecutive plays.
When your team turns the ball over more than your opponent in the NFL, you tend to lose games. And when your quarterback tosses three interceptions while the other team takes care of the ball, winning becomes an extremely difficult task. Unfortunately for the Newton and the Panthers, that is exactly what took place today.
Newton had one of his best rushing games of the season with eight carries for 50 yards and a touchdown. He also avoided several sacks and saved countless yards by slipping out of the grasp of John Abraham and other Falcons defenders on multiple occasions while helping the Panthers convert eight of their first nine third-down opportunities into first downs.
The turning point of the game actually took place before Newton's second interception when the Falcons finally sacked and pressured Newton on consecutive Panthers three-and-out possessions, giving Atlanta a short field each time and turning a 17-14 Carolina lead into a 24-17 Carolina deficit.
Carolina scored only 17 points, more than six below its season average of 23.2 entering the game, despite gaining a respectable 368 yards of total offense. They were outscored 17-0 in the fourth quarter, which is when games are won or lost.
Newton protected the ball and made smart decisions through the game, except when he didn't. It was shocking to watch the quarterback and his team fall so precipitously in a span of eight Carolina offensive plays, which began with that same 17-14 Panthers lead and ended with the final score. Panthers 17, Falcons 31.
This is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Newton's Week 6 performance against the Atlanta Falcons. Newton put the team on his back and moved them down the field early in the game, but his first-half interception in the end zone, the team's consecutive second-half three-and-outs deep in its own territory and his fourth-quarter interception pass at midfield were failures at key moments of the game.
The Panthers played well for three quarters and hung in against the Falcons just like they've done against every opponent so far this season. And like they have against every opponent except the Jacksonville Jaguars, they came up short. The disappointing fact is that Carolina looked like the better team for much of the first three quarters, but it was thoroughly outplayed and outscored (17-0) in the fourth quarter.
My high school coaches taught me that champions are made in the fourth quarter.