Well, for a half it looked as if the Panthers had become the team that coach Rivera said he always knew they could be, and Cam Newton could do no wrong, throwing for nearly 150 yards and two scores. The defense, having to start two guys at defensive tackle that have barely seen the field this year, played inspired football in the first half and limited an explosive Falcons offense to a mere 7 points. But then the second half happened.
Cam began making throws that made him look very much like the rookie that he is. On an attempted shovel pass to Jonathan Stewart he carelessly lobbed the ball in the air to avoid a sack, and the play ended in an Atlanta interception. On the next drive he tried to fit a ball through tight coverage into Brandon Lafell that was overthrown by a good 10 yards, and was intercepted and returned to the Carolina 25 yard-line.
However, midway through the fourth quarter Cam was back to his old self, leading a drive downfield that set up a potential game winning field goal attempt from just 36 yards away. But then Panther fans saw an ending unfold that they had already seen once this year: Olindo Mare missing an important kick from short distance at the end of the game. The Panthers were able to get the ball back after an Atlanta touchdown with one more shot at a chance to tie it. Cam drove the offense down inside the Atlanta 25, but then the drive ran into a roadblock that ended with four straight incomplete passes from Cam.
What I liked most about this game was the way the defense played. With an array of starters missing from the rotation the defense limited Matt Ryan, and an explosive Falcon offense to just 7 points in the first half. They really didn’t play that poorly in the second half, but were hampered by two Carolina turnovers deep in their own territory. I also liked the way Cam battle back from an abysmal third quarter and drove the Panthers down the field, and gave them a great chance to win it.
What was most disappointing, was the way the offense just continued to sputter for most of the second half, and how a kicker that is being paid $4 million dollars a year, missed another critical short field goal at the end of the game. However, this is a team game and no loss can truly be blamed on one particular guy. I’m sure the main thing that Cam and coach Rivera will blame this loss on is how they got outscored 24-0 in the second half. A second half beating that was similar to the one that Carolina received from Detroit, when they entered the half up 27-14.
Outsiders keep labeling these type of games as moral victories for the Panthers, considering their uncompetitive nature of last season. But the “moral victories” are starting to grow a bit old. When you’re up by three scores going into half time, you can’t lose a game, then begin taking away moral victories. The Panthers have to learn how to close games out, and pull out W’s late in games. With three games remaining in the season, hopefully they can use this time to develop as a team for next year, and get closer to becoming that ten win team that Coach Rivera knows they can be.