NFC South: 2011 Week 11 coverage

Rapid Reaction: Falcons 23, Titans 17

November, 20, 2011

Thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons’ 23-17 victory against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

What it means: The Falcons did a great job of bouncing back from last week’s devastating loss to New Orleans. It was the kind of loss that could have sent their season into free fall, but that didn’t happen. Coach Mike Smith had his team ready, and the Falcons played one of their most complete games of the season. They’re 6-4 and only one game behind the Saints in the win column of the NFC South standings.

Roddy’s revival: One of the things that impressed me most about receiver Roddy White the previous three seasons was his uncanny ability to bounce back from a bad play. It used to seem like every time White dropped a pass or committed a penalty, he would respond with a huge play. It was almost like, after every mistake, White was saying to Smith, “Hey, I owe you one.’’ But, for reasons I haven't been able to figure out, it hadn’t been working that way at all this season. White came into the week leading the NFL in dropped passes (eight), according to ESPN Stats & Information. White wasn’t making up for mistakes by following up with big plays. But that finally changed Sunday. Early in the third quarter, White had a Matt Ryan pass sail right through his hands. Just a few plays later, White made a great over-the-shoulder catch for a 43-yard gain. The play also provided evidence that the Falcons actually might have a downfield passing game. White finished with a season-high 147 receiving yards.

Dunta’s big play: A lot of people have been suggesting the huge free-agent contract the Falcons gave cornerback Dunta Robinson last year wasn’t a prudent move. I’ve always taken a different point of view. Robinson hasn’t come up with a lot of interceptions, but I think his presence has helped the rest of the secondary. But maybe Robinson silenced a few of his critics by coming up with an interception in the first quarter that set up a field goal. It was Robinson’s first interception of the season and only his second since joining the Falcons. Robinson also had a nice breakup on a third-down pass in the fourth quarter.

Most impressive two-play stretch: With around 11 minutes left in the third quarter, Atlanta defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux batted down Matt Hasselbeck passes on two consecutive plays. I left Babineaux off the midseason All-NFC South team, largely because he missed three games with an injury earlier in the season. But Babineaux is doing a very nice job of re-establishing himself as the division's premier defensive tackle.

What’s next: The Falcons host the Minnesota Vikings next Sunday.

Wrap-up: Packers 35, Buccaneers 26

November, 20, 2011

Thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35-26 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

What it means: This time, you can’t question the Bucs’ effort or say they were quiet. A week after all those things were said many times in an embarrassing loss, the Bucs went into one of the NFL’s toughest venues and played with plenty of heart. They had the Packers on the ropes most of the game, but couldn’t pull it off in the end. No shame in that, and coach Raheem Morris won't have to talk about a lack of effort this week. But the Bucs are now 4-6. They have to get extremely hot the rest of the season to have any shot at the playoffs.

What I liked: Tampa Bay’s offense. It looked better than it has most of the season because there was balance. LeGarrette Blount ran for 107 yards, including a spectacular touchdown run (if you haven’t seen it, be sure to catch the replay), and Josh Freeman threw for 342 yards and two touchdowns. But Freeman also was intercepted twice. That gives him 15 for the season. He was intercepted only six times all of last season.

What I didn’t like: You couldn’t really have expected Tampa Bay’s defense to go into Green Bay and shut down Aaron Rodgers. Tampa Bay’s defensive talent just isn’t that good. But the Bucs played defense about as well as they could for a large chunk of the game. Still, a few defensive penalties in the fourth quarter were very costly.

What’s next: The Bucs play at Tennessee next Sunday.

Wrap-up: Lions 49, Panthers 35

November, 20, 2011

Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers' 49-35 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Ford Field:

What it means: Remember when the Panthers were scoring moral victories every week early in the season? Well, they’re back at it. But this one had the potential to be so much more. This was a chance for a young team and first-year head coach Ron Rivera to turn a big corner. A victory in Ford Field would have sent a firm message to the rest of the league that the Panthers will be a force to be reckoned with next season and a potential spoiler the rest of this season. The Panthers went toe-to-toe with the Lions much of the day. But they couldn’t quite turn the corner. On the bright side, there were plenty of promising things that emerged, and the Panthers seem to be putting themselves in nice position for next year’s draft.

What I liked: Carolina’s offense. Yeah, Cam Newton was intercepted four times, but he had some great moments. The whole offense did. Even though they’re losing, the Panthers are so much more exciting on offense than they ever were under former head coach John Fox.

What I didn’t like: Carolina’s defense. It’s been a problem all year, and it’s not getting any better. You can’t allow Matthew Stafford to throw for five touchdowns, and you can’t allow 49 points. No matter how good your offense is, it’s pretty tough to match 49 points. Wherever the Panthers end up in the draft order, they'd better use their first pick on a defensive player. They'd better use just about all their picks on defensive players.

Sign of progress: The Panthers have made it clear they’re going to look at their young players a lot down the stretch. One guy who stood out Sunday was rookie return man Kealoha Pilares. He took a kickoff back for a touchdown.

What’s next: The Panthers play at Indianapolis next Sunday.