Panthers sloppy, but still beat Falcons 34-10

Quarterback Cam Newton said the Carolina Panthers didn’t come

close to playing their best game Sunday.

And yet they still beat their division rivals by 24 points.

Carolina’s 34-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons was its fourth

straight and pulled the Panthers to a game behind division-leading

New Orleans in the NFC South.

”That’s growth, and that’s what you need to see,” Newton said.

”For us it’s coming out each and every day and proving to

ourselves that we’re not going to play lights out each and every

day, but we still can hold ourselves accountable that if a mistake

happens… we’re going to (come back and) make something


Said tight end Greg Olsen: ”At the end, beating that team by

that margin and not having your `A’ game, that’s a sign of a good


Newton was the first to admit he struggled, particularly in the

first half.

He had two interceptions, but the Panthers still led 14-10 at

the break and put the game away by outscoring the Falcons 17-0 in

the final quarter. Newton led five scoring drives. He finished with

249 yards passing and threw for one touchdown and ran for


Coach Ron Rivera thinks it’s a good sign the Panthers are

expecting more of themselves as a team every week.

”I think it’s an indication as where we’re starting to evolve

as a football team,” Rivera said. ”But we’ve still got a long way

to go because we missed some opportunities early in the game and

those were a couple of them. Defensively we gave up some big plays.

We don’t want to do that. We want to keep it in front of us. If

teams are going to score against us they’ve got to earn it.”

Five reasons the Panthers defeated the Falcons 34-10 to win

their fourth straight game:

NEWTON’S CONFIDENCE: Newton could have gone into the tank after

throwing two first-half interceptions. He didn’t. Instead, he led

the Panthers’ offense on three scoring drives in the second half.

Newton wasn’t happy with his play in the first half but offensive

tackle Jordan Gross said he was pleased with the way the third-year

quarterback responded. ”There were times today where he could have

gotten rattled,” Gross said. ”He took some shots and had some

turnovers, but he didn’t (get rattled). He kept on swinging.”

ADJUSTING TO GONZALEZ: Tony Gonzalez hurt the Panthers with six

catches for 77 yards and a touchdown in the first half, but

defensive coordinator Sean McDermott changed things up in the

second half. Gonzalez was limited to one catch for 4 yards after

halftime. ”We came in at halftime and we were like, look, we can’t

let this guy beat us,” said Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, who

gave up a 17-yard touchdown pass to Gonzalez.

STILL RUNNING: The Panthers came in averaging 130 yards per game

on the ground and hit that mark again Sunday with 131 yards rushing

on 33 carries. Carolina’s ability to move the ball on the ground

and sustain drives has been a huge reason for their success this

season. The Falcons, on the other hand, came in 32nd in the league

in rushing and were limited to 78 yards rushing in Steven Jackson’s

second game back from a hamstring injury. Carolina came into the

game first in the league in time of possession and did nothing to

hurt that mark, holding the ball for more than 36 minutes.

TURNOVER CENTRAL: The Panthers are a combined plus-8 in the

turnover battled over the past four games – all victories. They

intercepted Matt Ryan three times and forced the Falcons into a

meaningless fumble on the game’s final play. The Panthers are

starting to think offensive on defense, scoring on an interception

return for the second time in three weeks. Ryan has now thrown

seven interceptions in the last two weeks.

PIVOTAL PLAY: When you’re winning games, breaks seem to go your

way. And when you’re losing games, well… not so much. That was

evident in the fourth quarter when Panthers receiver Brandon LaFell

caught a pass and headed toward the end zone only to have the ball

punched out from behind by Asante Samuel. LaFell fell to the

ground, but the football somehow managed to bounce back into his

arms even though three Falcons players were in the immediate


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