CHARLOTTE, NC — A steady rain from Tropical Storm Nicole made for some messy conditions in Thursday night’s tilt between the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers won 25-15 just 11 days after the Falcons beat the Panthers 37-34 in overtime in Atlanta.
Don’t laugh, but the Carolina Panthers remain relevant in the NFC South. As bad as they’ve been, the division is almost as bad and winnable for a team that’s 3-7 after Thursday night’s win over the Falcons. Tampa Bay (4-5), a team Carolina has already beaten, is just a game and a half back of first place. Atlanta (4-6) is just one game back with a 1-1 record against the Falcons. And consider, the Panthers have the best division record (3-1) and their remaining schedule is the 27th toughest in the NFL. New Orleans’ schedule is seventh toughest and the Bucks are 22nd. Again, don’t laugh. In 2014, Carolina went 3-8-1, winning its Final Four and winning the South, then a playoff game.
Promising Trend: The Panthers topped the Panthers with 169 yards rushing for the third time in five games since the trade star left. Christian McCaffrey After a Week 6 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. They entered Week 7 with an average of 135.7 yards on Thursday, 11th best in the NFL. That number is increasing after the team rushed for 232 yards against Atlanta. D’Onta Foreman A great reason. He had at least 118 yards rushing in three games, including 130 against the Falcons. If Carolina can continue to run the ball and play good defense, it has a chance to at least be in games.
QB Breakdown: BJ Walker Not surprisingly, but he didn’t have to be on a night when the running game was in high gear. But did he play well enough to keep the starting job next week against the Baltimore Ravens? He’s missing a tight end Stephen Sullivan Wide open in the first quarter and lucky not to get his attempted pass DJ Moore Intercepted in end zone. He took a bad sack in the first half that put Carolina out of field goal range. He seemed reluctant to run, and the Panthers wanted him to do more. Looming is Sam DarnoldThe Panthers may be leaning toward giving a quarterback another shot.
Bold prediction for next week: The Panthers are starting Darnold, who was activated off injured reserve earlier this week against the Ravens, and backup Walker. At worst, Darnold is the backup and Baker Mayfield Inactive or discharged. The team really wants to see Darnold, who went 4-7 as a starter last season. That will happen at some point in the next week or so. He’s a player the team could look to as a veteran to help guide the quarterback the team selects in the 2023 draft.
Next game: at Ravens (1:00 p.m. ET, Sunday)
That’s the best way to describe the Falcons on Thursday evening. For the first time this season, nothing worked in prime time. Not close.
Crime is futile. Security was porous. Special teams include the kicker Young Goo Missed two extra points for the first time in his career. While the Falcons’ loss to the Panthers didn’t look like a blowout on the scoreboard, the Falcons rarely looked like they had a chance in the game.
In a matchup that could have once again given them first place in the division and brought them back to .500, Atlanta is mourning another missed opportunity to try to claim first place in a bad division.
While this doesn’t put the Falcons out of anything due to the ineffectiveness of the division, it does send Atlanta back into the thick of the chaos that is the NFC South. So. Ugly.
Problematic trend: The Marcus Mariota–Kyle Pitts The miscommunication continued on Thursday. Mariota connected with Pitts on the second play of the game. He didn’t find his tight end again until late in the fourth quarter. Mariota and Pitts entered the game connecting on 51% of their passes — the worst of any quarterback-tight end combination with at least 20 attempts — and things didn’t improve after two catches for 28 yards on eight targets Thursday.
Biggest hole in the game plan: After playing the Panthers two weeks ago, Atlanta must have known Carolina would run the ball when Foreman rushed for three touchdowns. It didn’t matter either. The Panthers rushed for 232 yards on Thursday and were absolutely shredded by the Atlanta defense. The Falcons cycled through the linebackers in the first half Rashaan Evans, Michael Walker And Troy Anderson — it doesn’t matter.
QB Breakdown: And more like broken. While the stats weren’t as bad as some of the other games, this was the worst game Mariota has looked in all season. While his 19-of-30, 186-yard, 2-touchdown, 1-interception (two dropped) stat line was below average for him, his play was awful. His deep passes were off target (a constant issue), and for the first time in 2022, his decision-making was equally poor. Several low snaps from center didn’t help him Drew Dolman And shaky offensive line play, but that was a pretty poor performance for Mariota.
The silver lining: Great moment Katarrell Hodge. In his fifth NFL season and 65th NFL game, Hodge scored his first receiving touchdown. He has played for four teams, and has a career catch no. At 41, he got his first score.
Next game: vs. Bears (1:00 p.m. ET, Sunday)