Instant analysis from the Carolina Panthers’ 20-17 win against Atlanta:
1. Panthers take care of business in the division.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton said all games against the Falcons are personal to him because of his Atlanta roots.
But after the Falcons had won three in a row vs. Carolina, Sunday’s game felt personal to everyone in the home locker room.
After a disastrous start by Jonathan Stewart (see below), Newton took matters into his own hands – with help from a rookie RB and a stingy defense – to help the Panthers improve to 6-3.
The Panthers (6-3) entered their two-week stretch vs. NFC South opponents needing to at least split. Instead, they swept Tampa Bay and Atlanta (4-4) to remain a half-game behind New Orleans (6-2).
The Dec. 3 game vs. the Saints is looming large.
2. Panthers can win without power running game.
It was a dismal first-quarter showing for Stewart. The Panthers’ all-time rushing leader lost two fumbles for the first time his career.
The Panthers’ run game already relied a lot on deception. But Mike Shula seemed to lean on that more after Stewart’s early giveaways. It helps that he has a quarterback who can run it in Newton, who rushed for 86 yards and a TD on only nine carries.
But Shula also utilized McCaffrey more, and the scatback responded with 66 yards on 15 carries – both career highs – and his first rushing TD.
Shula also ran a Statue of Liberty-like run for WR Curtis Samuel and a reverse to WR Russell Shepard, both of which produced first downs.
3. Another strong game by Carolina special teams.
Graham Gano made two field goals in the third quarter, including a 45-yarder in the second half. Gano improved to 5-for-5 on the season on kicks between 40 and 49 yards.
Meanwhile, Michael Palardy averaged 49.8 yards on five punts, including three inside the Falcons’ 20. Palardy’s last punt was a beauty – a 57-yarder in the final three minutes that Jared Norris finished off with a nice open-field tackle.
The only special teams blip was Kaelin Clay’s muffed punt, which Clay was able to fall on.