The Carolina Panthers snapped a three-game losing streak to their longtime divisional rival, the Atlanta Falcons, on Sunday before a delighted home crowd in Charlotte. Here are a few thoughts on a half-dozen players who helped the Panthers erase a 10-0 first-quarter deficit and come up with an impressive win against the defending NFC champions:
▪ Mike Adams. Carolina’s 36-year-old safety may have made the biggest play of the game when he intercepted Matt Ryan and returned the ball 40 yards late in the second quarter. Carolina trailed 10-7 at the time and it looked very possible that Atlanta would score again before the half.
Instead, Adams beautifully undercut a throw to the tight end and then showed some good speed to run the ball all the way back to the Atlanta 31, setting up a go-ahead touchdown.
“Did you see my wheels?” Adams crowed to me later. Adams left the game in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury, however, and wasn’t involved in the Panthers’ final stop. He said he had a “stinger” – a pinched nerve in his neck – and believed it wasn’t serious.
▪ Cam Newton. The Panthers quarterback gets jacked up to play the Falcons “every single time,” as he proclaimed earlier this week. Newton only had a 5-7 record against his hometown team coming into this one, but he ran the ball beautifully (86 yards) and threw it just well enough to help make up for Jonathan Stewart’s two lost fumbles in the first half.
Newton was particularly animated with both his teammates and the home crowd, which he said was on purpose because “when the Panthers are emotionless, that’s when good things don’t happen.”
▪ Julio Jones. Here’s when you know it’s your day if you are the Panthers. On fourth-and-7 from the Carolina 39 in the fourth quarter, the man who may be the best receiver in the NFL got open by 10 yards in the Panthers end zone.
All alone, Jones somehow dropped Matt Ryan’s perfectly lofted pass. Instead of 20-10, it would have been 20-17, and the way the Falcons were moving the ball in the fourth quarter, anything would have been possible (they would score a later touchdown anyway).
Jones also unwittingly saved Adams’ bacon on this play -- Adams didn’t think Jones was going long and had tried to “jump” what he thought was going to be a medium-range throw.
So it was Adams who would have actually given up the touchdown, although Kurt Coleman ended up being much closer to Jones and consoled him by saying the wide receiver needed to give “glory to God” in both good times and bad after the play ended.
▪ Mario Addison. Carolina’s right defensive end just keeps getting better and spent a lot of the second half in Ryan’s face. He also had a sack to increase his seasonal total to 6.5. The Panthers’ best rush so far this season has come when Addison crashes in from the right side of the defense and Julius Peppers (7.5 sacks, although none Sunday) comes flying in from the left.
▪ Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey helped make up for Stewart’s awful day. He had a 4-yard touchdown on a pitchout as part of a day in which he had 66 yards rushing and 28 more receiving, including several plays he made for key first downs. McCaffrey beat the first tackler a lot more often on Sunday, too. Here’s where I should give a shoutout to the offensive line, too, as Carolina ran the ball for a season-high 201 yards.
▪ Devin Funchess. In his first game without running mate Kelvin Benjamin, Funchess showed that he might just have the juice to be a No. 1 NFL receiver. Funchess ended up with five catches for 86 yards, including a 33-yarder. As Newton said regarding the loss of Benjamin and Funchess’s big day: “Yeah, we just lost a great player. But nevertheless, the Titanic still has to go.”