Yes, Panthers’ fans, your dream just became a reality!
The Carolina Panthers pressured Matty-Melted Ice all day long, tying the NFL’s season-best sack output with nine total sacks en route to a 21-20 victory in the Georgia Dome today.
Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy, who made his first Pro Bowl this year, led the defensive charge with four sacks on the day. Even Star Lotulelei had one as did strong safety Mike Mitchell. Mitchell’s sack came on the exact defensive play call I described in my pre-game look – that delayed/deep safety blitz where the safety simply stands his ground like usual in the pre-snap read but charges into the backfield from ten to fifteen yards deep in the defensive backfield.
Fellow end Charles Johnson added a pair of sacks and reserve DE Frank Alexander added one of his own.
Clearly, the continued pressure took its toll on Matt Ryan and the offense. On the game-defining crucial final drive by Atlanta, Ryan was in the shotgun and walked to the line to bark out protections to his five linemen when we saw the ball zipping past him on a TV close-up of his antics. The camera shot immediately changed to the normal wide-angle look of the field as Falcons and Panthers alike scrambled into the Atlanta backfield, but the Falcons had covered it up.
Still, the play lost a ton of yardage and, more importantly, time as the Falcons had used their allotment of timeouts to spare the clock on Carolina’s final drive, a predictable 3-run, 3-and-out to chew up clock.
Ryan threw a long incomplete pass to run the clock out. By that time, it was assured the Panthers would win it as there were but six seconds remaining and 70 yards to go.
The victory means the Panthers clinch at least the #2 overall seed in the NFC playoffs. If the Seattle Seahawks lose to the surging Rams at CenturyLink field in Seattle and the San Francisco 49′ers win at Arizona, two very possible outcomes, then the Niners win the NFC West, forcing the Seahawks into a Wild Card spot of their own.
Carolina holds the tiebreaker over San Francisco by virtue of having beaten them earlier in the season while they lost to Seattle in the opening game.
The Panthers finish the 2013 regular season with a whopping 12-4 record.
Keep your eyes and ears peeled for final scores from those two teams as the Carolina Panthers, incredibly, have nowhere to go now….except UP!
Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye