Panthers relate to Falcons’ hangover
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers are in similar situations as they meet for the first time this season on Sunday.
The Panthers probably have an idea of what the Falcons are going through.
These are the last two teams to lose in Super Bowls. It is not easy to recover.
“The hangover, it’s difficult. It really is,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said, knowing his team went through it last year. “That’s difficult, and that’s hard. Unfortunately, we went through it, and now they’re dealing with it.”
The Falcons (4-3) have dealt with some puzzling results this season, but there is still time to put it together.
The Panthers (5-3) had a miserable 2016, the season after losing to the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.
“Just knowing that disappointment, it sticks with you,” Rivera said. “You’ve just got to work past it.”
While the Panthers are going through a range of emotion with the trade of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin this week to the Buffalo Bills, the Falcons are trying to go about things with a business-as-usual approach.
“We’ve certainly got our work cut out for us, but like every other week, it comes down to us,” Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan said. “Our preparation has to be the same. … There will be opportunities like every game. When we do get our chances, you’ve got to make the plays. That will be the case against Carolina.”
These teams are contending in the NFC South. The Falcons, who will play their first division game of the season, snapped a three-game losing streak last week while the Panthers broke a two-game skid.
Even with the Panthers altering their depth chart at receiver, that shouldn’t change much about how the Falcons view the situation this week, Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said.
“They’re equipped playing without (Benjamin) having done it before,” Quinn said, referring to Carolina’s successful 2015 season without the then-injured receiver.
But for the Panthers, the trade has been the main topic for a couple of days.
“When I get outside of my emotional state, I think like everything will be normal,” Carolina quarterback Cam Newton said. “I don’t want to dwell on that. It’s done. It’s over with. … You’ve just got to be a professional about it. You’ve just got to roll with the punches.”
Further, the Falcons won’t be sulking because another division team made a trade.
“You think Atlanta care about that?” Newton said.
The Panthers are counting on an upgrade of speed on the perimeter to help their passing attack. Rivera said that is something that was lacking at times.
“We haven’t stretched the field this year,” Rivera said. “Now there is an opportunity for us to do something different. … It’s something, if you look at it, that we needed to do.”
To do that, it means the Panthers will have to get more out of rookie receiver Curtis Samuel, who has been slow to fall into a role (and dealt with early injuries), and make use of receiver Kaelin Clay, who recently rejoined the organization. Both players are speed threats.
“Bringing (Clay) back has a chance to pay dividends off for us,” Rivera said.
Rivera said the Carolina rushing attack has stalled too often and part of that is that opponents haven’t felt threatened.
“We started seeing eight, nine guys in the box,” he said of opposing defenses.
Atlanta’s offense has been rather inconsistent at times as well. This might be a difficult week to fix that.
“They’ve got a deep defensive line, and they want to rotate guys through, much like us,” Quinn said. “That’s what jumps out is the athleticism at the linebacker spot.”
Ryan added, “It’s a good challenge for us, blocking those guys (at linebacker).”
The Falcons also are looking to produce some more big plays..
“Those are the ones when you get the big shots down the field or the big runs down the field, there’s kind of a general shift in momentum at times,” Quinn said. “Especially if you can tack another play on to that.”
The Panthers forced three Tampa Bay turnovers last week, a big factor in Carolina’s 17-3 win. Despite how good the Panthers have been on defense, they haven’t made a big impact with takeaways.
“When we win (the turnover margin), we win 90 percent of the games,” Rivera said, noting that Tampa Bay didn’t convert after the one Carolina turnover last week.
Atlanta has won the past three meetings with Carolina. Newton said the division games often take on another tone.
“This one counts for two, a divisional opponent,” Newton said. “We’re expecting big things. All seasons are better when we beat Atlanta. We didn’t do it last year.”
The Falcons had about a half-dozen players limited in practice by midweek, but Quinn said he didn’t expect any of them to miss the Sunday game.