Carolina Panthers

Instant analysis: A nasty hit, a weak Panthers defensive effort, too many Dirty Birds

Instant analysis from the Carolina Panthers’ 31-24 loss at Atlanta.

An unacceptable hit on Cam Newton

In the second quarter of Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game against Atlanta, Falcons safety Damontae Kazee was ejected after a helmet-to-helmet hit on quarterback Cam Newton.

The crown of Kazee’s helmet hit Newton’s facemask as Newton, the ball-carrier, slid down on a fourth-down play.

Newton lay on the field after taking the hit while his teammate, receiver Torrey Smith, shoved Kazee away from the play and a small scuffle between Falcons and Panthers players ensued. After Kazee was ejected, Smith was called for a personal foul. The penalties then offset.

Kazee will likely face a suspension and a fine for the hit, which was unacceptable considering the helmet contact and the fact that Newton had slid down.

Newton, who didn’t have to miss a snap after being evaluated for a concussion and cleared, orchestrated a touchdown drive after the play. But the Falcons answered back twice, and led 17-10 at halftime.

Julio (mostly) locked down, but Panthers gashed elsewhere.

Carolina Panthers third-year cornerback James Bradberry did a great job against premier Falcons receiver Julio Jones in the first half of Sunday’s game. Jones had three catches for 22 yards, and 9 of those yards were courtesy of a catch from out of the slot with nickel Captain Munnerlyn in in coverage instead of Bradberry.

Jones had five catches for 64 yards.

But the Panthers gave up big plays elsewhere as quarterback Matt Ryan used his other weapons. Rookie receiver Calvin Ridley had five catches for 64 yards and a touchdown.

Running back Tevin Coleman had 107 rushing yards on 16 carries, and a huge 30-yard catch by Marvin Hall set up an eight-yard score with just 22 seconds left in the second quarter to put Atlanta up 17-10 at the half.

Where was the Panthers’ defensive line?

Against a quarterback who stands as still in the pocket as Ryan, it was a surprise to see the Panthers’ pass-rush, which racked up six sacks last week, virtually non-existent in the first half.

In the third quarter, the Panthers finally got the disruption they desired when defensive end Wes Horton hit Ryan’s arm on a throw, forcing an errant pass that was picked by rookie cornerback Donte Jackson.

But the pressure was fleeting. Carolina finished with no sacks and hurried Ryan only twice.

And even more surprisingly, the Panthers’ rushing defense was porous. Carolina finished No. 3 against the run last year, averaging 88.1 rushing yards allowed per game with a season-high of 148 (Week 13 against New Orleans). But Sunday, the Falcons racked up 170 rushing yards by the end of the fourth quarter, with 442 yards of offense.

In the third quarter, Coleman became the first running back since 2016 to solely rush for over 100 yards against Carolina, breaking the Panthers’ 21-game streak without allowing a 100-yard rusher.

Ryan even rushed for two touchdowns, the first time he’s done so in a single game in his career.

Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071; @jourdanrodrigue