By Cindy Davis // @XO_CindyDavis
The Panthers lost a nail-biter to their division rival Atlanta Falcons Sunday in their typical cardiac cat fashion.
With the game on the line at 24-31 and 5 seconds on the clock, quarterback Cam Newton launched a 30-yard bomb into the end zone to his new, speedy wide receiver DJ Moore. Unfortunately, under pressure and in the face of two defenders, Moore was unable to reel the catch in for a chance at overtime.
The offense overall did what they were supposed to, by putting 24 points on the board. However, the Panthers struggled for four quarters in an unexpected phase: Defense.
The Panthers, consistently known for their dominant defensive front seven, really struggled to stop the Falcons offense Sunday. This is the same Falcons offense that has been known to struggle in the red zone. It is also a Panthers defense that had not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 21 consecutive games.
That streak came to an end Sunday as Falcons running back Tevin Coleman was able to light the defense up and rush for 107 yards. The Panthers also allowed QB Matt Ryan to rush for two touchdowns. Something that has never happened for Ryan in his entire NFL career.
To make matters worse, the best linebacker in the league, Luke Kuechly missed several key tackles. The defense is without their second key linebacker, Thomas Davis, until week 5, but Kuechly should not be the sole source of plays.
Typically, the Panthers secondary is what most fans are nervous about when facing one of the best receivers in the league in Julio Jones. That was not the case in this game. The secondary stepped up when the rest of the defense could not and held Jones to 64 receiving yards and no touchdowns.
Rookie cornerback Donte Jackson also recorded his first NFL interception by picking Ryan off on a throw intended for Jones.
Coach Ron Rivera was visibly disappointed after Sunday’s loss and said that the run defense was “terrible” and went on to say “I’m a defensive head coach, and to have that happen, I won’t stand for that. I will get that corrected.”
Defensive coordinator Eric Washington also confidently said following the loss to Atlanta “we’re still going to be the best D in the league.”
While this game was frustrating to watch for fans, the positive takeaway from this game is that it is still very early in the season. This performance showed the defense that they need to refocus. It also gives them a reality check after a notable week one performance against the Cowboys.
With the 2-0 Bengals coming to the Carolinas this Sunday, this is a chance for the Panthers defense to redeem themselves and protect their home turf. Both the Bengals and the Panthers have key players on IR, but the Panthers are currently listed as 3 point favorites for this game.
To make this game more personal, Luke Kuechly is from Cincinnati and will undoubtedly be fired up and want to show off for his hometown team.
The Panthers have a defense full of talent that is still adjusting their sights. As for Atlanta, the Panthers will look for their revenge when they visit Bank of America stadium December 23rd.
Talk Panthers with Cindy on Twitter @XO_CindyDavis