Carolina Panthers lose opportunity to win NFC South

By The Sports Xchange  |  Jan. 1, 2018 at 6:22 PM
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers were largely disappointed in their performance in the 22-10 loss at Atlanta to conclude the regular season.

As it turned out, it cost them a chance to be at home on the first weekend of the playoffs. Instead, they will return to New Orleans for the second time in a six-game span for a playoff matchup with the NFC South co-champion Saints.

Both teams finished with 11-5 records, but the Saints won the two regular-season meetings.

"I'm not concerned at all; it's one game," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We played well for most of this year and we had some opportunities to win some football games."

The Panthers were able to turn their attention to the postseason after the setback to Atlanta.

That would have been the case regardless of the outcome against the Falcons, given that the Panthers already knew they were going to be in the NFC playoff mix.

"I want to get past this game," Rivera said Monday. "I want to get ready for New Orleans."

The Panthers have countless things to address going into the playoffs. They won't be dealing with overconfidence.

"As a whole, we didn't do our job enough," quarterback Cam Newton said. "I don't think we played with enough confidence."

Newton's 14-for-34 passing with three interceptions came in perhaps his worst career performance. No wonder he's adamant about looking ahead.

"There's no need to sob over something you know I could have been better at," Newton said. "Right now we have to turn the page extremely fast. I'm going to do that and focus on the next opponent."

The Panthers might have been most bothered by their clear lack of execution. The offense looked disjointed rather than a team in its 16th game of the season.

"It hurt as a competitor to not do what you're supposed to do," wide receiver Devin Funchess said.

Because New Orleans lost Sunday at Tampa Bay, the agitation level for the Panthers was probably a little higher knowing if they had won they would have started the postseason at home.

"We let it slip away," linebacker Thomas Davis said.

The good thing for the Panthers was that their defense was up to the task enough to force the Falcons into five second-half field goals. They were stingy in the red zone.

This will mark the second time that the Panthers enter the postseason as a wild card. The other time came in the 2005 season and they won twice on the road.

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The Panthers wanted to keep quarterback Cam Newton from taking too much contact during the regular-season finale, and that mostly worked out.

Still, he was active enough to rush for a team-best 59 yards. That gave him a career-high 754 rushing yards this season, 13 more yards on the ground than he gained in 2012.

Newton joined retired Michael Vick as the only quarterbacks in NFL history with three seasons of more than 700 yards rushing.

But most of the attention was on Newton's errant throws. His first nine passes fell incomplete, and by the end the Falcons were catching his passes. He was intercepted three times.

"A couple of throws got away from me there at the end," Newton said. "I was pressing a little too much."

--

The Panthers are usually one of the best teams in the NFL at sustaining drives, but that wasn't the case in the loss at Atlanta. They had time of possession at slightly more than 25 minutes.

"Too many blunders, that's not us," quarterback Cam Newton said. "Things that are easily correctable. That's the optimistic approach about all of this."

The time of possession was a big decline from the season as a whole. Carolina finished with 32:17 minutes of time of possession per game, ranking fourth in the NFL. That broke the franchise record in that category. The previous mark was 31:54 in 2013.

Head coach Ron Rivera said there's a need "to complete more passes, that we run the ball better."

NOTES: RB Jonathan Stewart was inactive for the Atlanta game after what was described as a stiff back during pregame. ... S Kurt Coleman is expected back for full work this week in practice, head coach Ron Rivera said Monday, after missing Sunday's game with an ankle injury.

... K Graham Gano set a team record by making 96.7 percent of his field-goal attempts (29-for-30). That was the best rate in the NFL this season. ... LB Thomas Davis had an active game in Atlanta after serving his one-game NFL suspension for a vicious hit in a Dec. 16 victory against Green Bay.

REPORT CARD VS. FALCONS

--PASSING OFFENSE: D-minus - The Panthers were miserable in the passing attack, with QB Cam Newton not completing a pass until his 10th attempt. He threw three interceptions and also was hurt by dropped passes. If not for a touchdown strike to WR Devin Funchess that allowed the Panthers to tie the game in the first half and a 44-yard strike to Funchess that accounted for the game's biggest play from scrimmage, this would have been a total failure.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: D - QB Cam Newton managed to gain 59 yards on the ground (of the team's 87 yards) and that was about the only saving part in this category. The Panthers were without RB Jonathan Stewart, who had a stiff back in warmups and was inactive. RB Christian McCaffrey never established much of a rhythm and the offensive line didn't hold up well in trying to create even slight cracks.

--PASS DEFENSE: C-minus - The Panthers gave up 311 yards through the air, many of them coming on third downs. The Falcons had three players with more than 71 receiving yards. Attempts by the Panthers to disguise coverages didn't work often enough. The Atlanta receiving corps tends to be a difficult matchup for Carolina's young cornerbacks.

--RUSH DEFENSE: A - The Panthers held Atlanta to 60 rushing yards as the Falcons barely exceeded two yards per carry. This was crucial as the Falcons tried to nurse a lead for most of the second half. The Panthers' defensive front was stout in this game and clearly one of the strong parts for the team as a whole.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus - While Atlanta had plenty of special-teams highlights because of its made field goals, the Panthers didn't have major glitches here. K Graham Gano was good on his lone field-goal attempt (from 42 yards out) and the Panthers had a few situations where they could have benefited by putting Atlanta in tough field position.

--COACHING: C - This might have been a tough game in terms of motivation, but the Panthers still had something to play for and they didn't come through. The offense was out of sorts for most of the game. The defense rose to challenges and the Panthers remained with a chance until late in the game. The Panthers had some good time management, but it didn't turn out to matter much.

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