NFC South Notebook: No longer unbeaten, is Carolina still the favorite?
It just wasn’t the Carolina Panthers’ week. After reeling off 14 straight victories, including a 38-0 performance against the Atlanta Falcons just two weeks prior, Atlanta was ready to make a statement in Week 16. And make a statement they did.
The Falcons were able to stun the Panthers with a 20-13 victory, complete with a Matt Ryan 70-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones, and a key strip-sack by rookie Vic Beasley Jr. to seal the game. While Atlanta was impressive, the Panthers just seemed unable to really get anything rolling in the loss, as well.
Not only did the Panthers have just 268 total yards of offense, but they were beaten in time of possession 35:38 to 24:22. Possibly the most shocking part of it all was that the likely NFL MVP, Cam Newton, threw for just 142 yards, with a quarterback rating of 69.0.
While the Panthers dropped their first game of the year, the question now becomes, is it time to sound the alarm on the Super Bowl favorites? Or will Carolina right the ship and get things turned around before the 2015 NFL playoffs begin?
We’ll likely find out in Week 17, as the Panthers draw an interesting Tampa Bay Buccaneers team. Carolina is also in a position where it needs to win in order to lock up the No. 1 spot in the NFC and hold home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. It’s time for Newton to show his greatness once again, and get the Panthers back in the win column after the Week 16 loss.
But to call them no longer the favorites and overlook these Panthers? Well, that would probably be a massive mistake. We saw what happened when people attempted to write off Carolina before the season when they lost Kelvin Benjamin for the year, so it’s safe to say that this team still has the NFL’s attention.
Julio Jones shows his greatness once again
After hearing all week (or all season) how Josh Norman was able to shut down elite receivers like it was no big deal, Jones came in looking ready to make a statement. Now, instead of doing it with his mouth, Jones let his play do the talking for him. While he wound up with nine catches for 178 yards and a touchdown, including a 70-yard score, his stellar play was a key to helping the Falcons stun the Panthers.
But what was even more impressive from Jones, was what he did specifically when Norman was covering him. As Chris Wesseling of Around The NFL reported, Jones got the best of Norman in a big way in Week 16.
Per Next Gen Stats, Julio Jones had 7 receptions for 91 yards on 8 targets with Josh Norman in coverage.
— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) December 27, 2015
Jones was essentially unstoppable in Week 16, and not even the stellar Norman could slow him down on this day. While we know that Norman is one of the stronger cornerbacks in the NFL, it’s obvious that Jones is one of the best wide receiver in the NFL at this point.
Drew Brees silencing doubters, even with a torn plantar fascia
When you throw for 400-plus yards and three touchdowns against anyone in the NFL, it’s impressive. When you do it with a torn plantar fascia in your foot, it becomes nothing short of amazing.
This was the case for Brees in the New Orleans Saints’ Week 16 matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Not only did Brees fight through the injury, but he completed 25 of 36 passes for 412 yards, with three scores and no interceptions. His quarterback rating of 135.4 was incredible, and he hit nine different receivers in the 38-27 victory.
Brees is headed to the Hall of Fame when his career his over, but even at the age of 36, it seems that his career still has plenty of life left in it. The Saints may not be playoff-bound in 2015, but with quite a bit of young talent on both sides of the ball and a leader like Brees, there’s no reason to believe that they won’t be able to work their way back up the NFC South in the coming seasons.