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Panthers' slow starting defense needs to step up

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)

The Panthers need to avoid another slow start Sunday to have a better chance of upending the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons.

That's something they haven't done this season.

The Panthers haven't shown up ready to play and have allowed opponent to score a touchdown on the opening possession in all three games. The Panthers (1-2) recovered in Week 2 to beat New Orleans, but never led in losses to Tampa Bay and the New York Giants.

Linebacker Thomas Davis said Carolina needs to come out with ''better intensity'' early against the 3-0 Falcons. Davis says the Georgia Dome is particularly loud and falling behind only makes winning there more difficult.

''We have to understand the situation and know that we need to go out and set the tone early and not try to wait until the second series,'' said Davis, who's expected to play this week after missing last week's game against the Giants with a hamstring injury. ''We have to go out and jump on these guys.''

But stopping Matt Ryan and the Falcons won't be easy. Atlanta has scored on its opening possession in its three wins.

''I think that good execution coming out of the gate,'' quarterback Matt Ryan said. ''I think (offensive coordinator) Dirk Koetter has done a good job of calling the plays and getting us prepared for those situations. That's one thing we've done well. I think there are other areas where we haven't been as efficient as we need to be. I think our focus this week is to try and improve in those other areas.''

Poor execution has plagued the Panthers defense all year on opening drives, particularly on third down.

The Panthers allowed the Saints, Bucs and Giants to convert a combined six third-down conversions on opening drives with two of those resulting in touchdown passes to tight ends. Drew Brees hit Jimmy Graham for a 1-yard touchdown pass and Eli Manning found Martellus Bennett for a 14-yard strike.

''Any of those stops on third down allow you get off the field,'' coach Ron Rivera said. ''We have to be better than that - and I'm aware of that. It happened the other day and I made a comment about it. Hopefully we're paying attention and we learn from those situations.''

Third down hasn't been a problem for the Falcons.

They haven't even needed to execute a third down on their opening possessions this season.

''Dirk always says that if stay out of third downs, then you don't have to complete them,'' Falcons wide receiver Roddy White said. ''Just staying ahead of the chains. I think we're doing a good job of play-calling on first and second down, and Dirk's doing a heck of a job just being aggressive, getting us chunks down the field. I think every time we get chunks down the field and get some explosives on those drives, we're going down and scoring points.''

Panthers linebacker James Anderson believes Carolina's problems are correctable.

''It's just little things here or there,'' Anderson said. ''We just have to collectively come together and make a decision this isn't going to happen anymore. It's not scheme and it's not just one player here or there. The first series we have to collectively be on the same page.''

In the first two games, the Panthers were able to bounce back after surrendering touchdowns on the opening drive.

But last week they never found a rhythm against the Super Bowl champion Giants. New York scored on its first four possessions and eight of 10 drives overall in a 36-7 rout of the Panthers.

However, Rivera doesn't expect any changes to the starting lineup.

''We're staying with who we got,'' Rivera said.

Rivera would like to see his defensive backs play a little tighter at the line of scrimmage and not so soft like they did against the Giants.

New York receiver Ramses Barden gashed the Panthers for 138 yards on nine catches in his first NFL start.

And for the second time this season the Panthers failed to create a turnover, something they had stressed repeatedly in training camp.

''We've got to make sure we get back to doing what we did well the first two weeks, and that mean's playing attack-style football and getting after the football as much as we can,'' said Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. ''We didn't get any turnovers last week, and they got five. That's the difference right there.''

NOTES: LB Jon Beason missed his second straight day of practice with knee and shoulder issues. Rivera said he's still hopeful Beason will play, but if not Jason Phillips would get the start. ... Rivera said DE Antwan Applewhite (knee) and Mike Pollak (shoulder) likely won't play vs. Atlanta. .. RB Jonathan Stewart (toe) practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day and is making good progress and should play, while RT Byron Bell practiced full. LB Thomas Davis and DE Greg Hardy both practiced on a limited basis.

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Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Tagged: Falcons, Saints, Giants, Panthers, Thomas Davis, Jon Beason, Matt Ryan

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