The Carolina Panthers did what they should have done this week, shutting down a sore-shouldered Cam Newton for the season. After Newton’s performance against New Orleans – obviously hurting, obviously compromised – that was really the only choice to make.
So here are three things I find interesting about Sunday’s starter, Taylor Heinicke, and two suggestions:
▪ Heinicke is a vertically challenged quarterback (he’s generously listed at 6-foot-1). Of course, that’s never hurt Drew Brees. Heinicke more closely models himself after another NFL quarterback, though — Russell Wilson. As he told me once of Wilson: “He gets his playmakers the ball, he doesn’t make a lot of bonehead plays. … That’s what I feel like I can do.”
▪ Heinicke once threw for 730 yards in a single college game while at Old Dominion. Yes, 730 yards.
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▪ He will take a chance — sometimes to his detriment. “Every now and then, he’s a little bit of a gunslinger and he’ll try to force a shot,” coach Ron Rivera said once about Heinicke.
OK, so those things are all interesting. Here are my suggestions.
▪ First, throw the ball on the very first play of the game. A short, safe pass. Get the guy a little confidence. Don’t run it twice with Christian McCaffrey and end up facing third-and-7 for his first throw.
▪ Second suggestion: Take a deep shot sometime in the first quarter to DJ Moore. Atlanta’s secondary has been vulnerable all year. Heinicke’s arm is strong. Moore is strong enough to bat it down if it’s not a good throw, and it just might work. If it falls incomplete, no harm, no foul — but it should at least make the Falcons think twice about an eight-man box on defense.
▪ This is the last home game of the season for the Panthers, who are also trying to break a six-game losing streak. For a number of guys on the roster – and coaches, too – these last two games are about saving their jobs. So effort won’t be a problem.
▪ Prediction time: I got New Orleans’ win over the Panthers correct Monday night to put my record at 9-5 for the season picking Carolina games.
When it appeared Cam Newton would play in the Atlanta game, Carolina was a three-point favorite. Now that he won’t, Atlanta is favored by a field goal.
Little has gone right for the Panthers for the past two months, and they’re definitely not going to beat New Orleans on the road in a week to close the season. But I think they will upset Atlanta and get Heinicke a victory in his first start, avoiding the embarrassment of an 0-8 second half of the season.
My pick: Carolina 27, Atlanta 24.