Scott Fowler

Scott Says: Hurricane remnants in Charlotte make Panthers’ loss to Falcons feel weird

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton (1) pauses before a play against the Atlanta Falcons Sunday.  While much of the Carolinas was dealing with storm relief, the NFL schedule had the Panthers playing a road game 250 miles from Charlotte.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton (1) pauses before a play against the Atlanta Falcons Sunday. While much of the Carolinas was dealing with storm relief, the NFL schedule had the Panthers playing a road game 250 miles from Charlotte. AP

It was a strange time for a football game.

While the Carolina Panthers played Atlanta Sunday afternoon in the opulent indoor comfort of Mercedes-Benz Stadium — with the Falcons ultimately winning a shootout, 31-24 — flash flood warnings were being issued in Charlotte and people were in crisis throughout the Carolinas.

Thousands who may have wanted to watch the Panthers-Falcons game literally didn’t have the power to do it.

And many other people didn’t have time for the escapism inherent in a Sunday afternoon of pro football anyway. They were evacuating, or using a chainsaw on a downed tree, or making sure they had enough fresh water, or ensuring that the family photo albums got saved, or figuring out what to do with the kids on another Monday with no school.

It’s interesting to wonder if this game would have been played at all had it been scheduled for Charlotte. My guess is that it would have been postponed because of the difficulties faced by the region — and the need for police and first responders to be able to concentrate their efforts on storm relief.

As it was, though, the game was played, and I’m not saying it shouldn’t have been. Being there, though, it just felt sort of like watching a football game with the “mute” button on.

The Falcons held a moment of silence before the game for the victims of Hurricane Florence..

The cheap shot by Damontae Kazee on Cam Newton was well-handled by the officials, who threw out Kazee for targeting after Newton slid — and then flagged Torrey Smith for a retaliatory hit. Smith will gain some respect with his teammates for sticking up for his quarterback there, however.

Newton said later of the ejection: “What needed to happen, happened.” The quarterback also said of the hit that “it looked worse than it did” and that “this game isn’t fit for cheap shots like that.”

Newton played an extraordinarily good game for the most part, coming back from a hit that looked very possibly like it could have given him a concussion to throw for 335 yards and three touchdowns and run for 42 more yards. His only interception bounced off running back C.J. Anderson’s hands first. The Panthers had a chance on their final drive, but ran out of time at the Atlanta 31. The Panthers’ final play: A throw to double-covered rookie D.J. Moore, who had a chance at a batted ball but couldn’t come up with it. Moore said he was “real close” to catching the ball.

“I had a good shot at it but it just came down so fast through his arms,” Moore said, “I couldn’t react fast enough. It’s real frustrating.”

Newton’s dump-down passes to Christian McCaffrey are fine and somewhat effective (14 catches, 102 yards), but Carolina absolutely has to get more consistently out of its wide receivers. They had some great moments Sunday — Moore’s 51-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter being the most obvious example — but too often drives bogged down for the first three quarters if McCaffrey wasn’t getting the first down.

The Panthers missed Greg Olsen on Sunday. Rookie tight end Ian Thomas dropping an absolute dart from Newton that would have been a touchdown was only one glaring example. The Panthers’ tight ends only had a total of 10 receiving yards, all by Thomas.

You see this on the practice field a lot but not too often in a real game: Atlanta cornerback Desmond Trufant did pushups on the field after dropping what should have been an interception of Newton.

Who would have thought that Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan would have more rushing touchdowns in this game than Newton? “I’m not going to out-Cam Cam,” Ryan laughed later. But in this game he had 272 yards passing with two touchdowns and then ran for two more.

All that money the Panthers have spent on the defensive line usually seems like a good investment — as it did a week ago against Dallas. But it did not look well-spent Sunday, as Ryan had all sorts of time and the Falcons too often ran roughshod over Carolina in the running game. The Panthers had zero sacks Sunday after posting six the week before against Dallas.

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