The Falcons beat Carolina 30-28 in Week 4 in large part because of a crucial Cam Newton fumble. The Panthers sacked Matt Ryan seven times, but Atlanta scored twice in the final five minutes to escape with the win.
It has been that sort of year for the Falcons. Atlanta has played eight games decided by a touchdown or less and won seven of them. As for the Panthers, winning close games is not their strength. Carolina is 0-7 in seven point games. The two teams meet today in Charlotte. It has been nearly three months since the Panthers treated their fans to a home victory.
So much has been said about rookie QB's Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III while the spotlight has been turned off of Carolina sophomore Cam Newton. After a slow start the former Heisman trophy winner has been outstanding the last three weeks. Newton has accounted for eight touchdowns and no interceptions over a three game span while completing 58-percent of his passes and accumulating 320 total yards a game.
The Panther pass defense has also tightened of late. Carolina has limited opponents to less than 190 yards a game through the air over the last three contests. However the Panther rush defense has been gashed for more than 175 yards a game the last three weeks. This brings up a dilemma for the Falcons.
Atlanta averages more than 26 points each game because of a potent passing attack. Ryan ranks in the top five among QB's in completion percentage and passing yards. But if the Carolina defense can control the pass, where does that leave Atlanta? The Falcons rush for only 91yards a game. Rookie Jacquizz Rodgers could be the factor back.
While longtime Atlanta RB Michael Turner had a nice game a week ago Thursday rushing for 83 yards and a touchdown against New Orleans he continues to plod along averaging only 3.8 yards a carry. The game against the Saints was his first contest in a month where he eclipsed 50 yards on the ground. But Rodgers is coming on. The rookie from Oregon has had more than 50 combined rushing and receiving yards five times in the last six games and has seen an increased workload in the scat back role.
It would be difficult to bet against Atlanta in a close game. But remember Carolina won four of their final six games last year. The Panthers will need three wins in their final four contests to equal that finish. They will need that or better if Ron Rivera wants to return as Carolina's head coach.