NFC South: 2013 Week 9 ATL at CAR Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Atlanta Falcons

November, 3, 2013

CHARLOTTE -- A few thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons' 34-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Bank of American Stadium.

What it means: With the loss, the Falcons dropped to 2-6 on a day when they had no margin for error. It seems virtually impossible for the Falcons to make a playoff run now despite the optimism expressed in the locker room leading up to Sunday’s game. It’s hard to believe the Falcons already have doubled their loss total from a year ago. And it can’t all be blamed on injuries. Poor play in every phase of the game has hurt them throughout.

Stock watch: Matt Ryan's stock plummeted fast. He entered the season as one of the top quarterbacks around. Then all of a sudden, Ryan threw seven interceptions in the past two games, including a 38-yard interception that was returned for a touchdown by veteran Drayton Florence in the fourth quarter on Sunday. Of course, Ryan is without top weapons Julio Jones and Roddy White. At the same time, he made some questionable throws in traffic days after he talked about how he needed to play better. The turnovers also contributed to the defense being on the field way longer than it needed to be against the Panthers, who dominated the time of possession battle, 36:25 to 23:35. Ryan finished 20-of-27 for 219 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.

Opportunity lost: Midway through the fourth quarter, Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel got beat by Panthers receiver Brandon LaFell, but Samuel made up for the play by forcing LaFell to fumble deep in Falcons’ territory. As the ball rolled on the ground, cornerback Robert Alford tried to step up and recover it, but he kicked it right back into the arms of LaFell at the Falcons’ 8-yard line. The Panthers kept possession and on the very next play, quarterback Cam Newton scored on an 8-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers an insurmountable 24-10 edge. It’s a different game if the Falcons come up with that turnover.

Youth movement: Rookie cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Alford both made an impact on defense. Trufant snatched his first career interception on a deep ball launched by Newton. But Alford topped Trufant with an acrobatic pick during which he tiptoed to remain inbounds. The play was called an incomplete pass at first, but a replay confirmed just how great a play Alford made. If only Alford just could have come up with the fumble recovery. Not to be outdone was undrafted rookie linebacker Paul Worrilow, who had a career day with nearly 20 tackles.

Foul play: The Falcons again hurt themselves with penalties, including some procedural calls. But coach Mike Smith seemed to take issue with at least one pass interference call and appeared to be upset about the defense being whistled for too many men on the field. Whatever the case, those penalties came back to bite the Falcons once again. They were flagged seven times for 59 yards.

What’s next: The Falcons host one of the league’s best when the Seattle Seahawks come to the Georgia Dome next Sunday. The last time the teams met was in last year’s playoffs, when the Falcons fought off a Seahawks comeback. With Russell Wilson leading the way, the Falcons will have a tough time slowing down the powerful Seahawks.

Rapid Reaction: Carolina Panthers

November, 3, 2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A few thoughts on the Carolina Panthers' 34-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons:

What it means: The Panthers keep talking about being relevant. Winning four straight and five of their past six games has made them that. This wasn't as pretty as the others, but the end result was just as decisive. They beat a team that was down and took advantage of mistakes. That's what you have to do in the NFL to be relevant. Their five wins have come by the average score of 33.6-9.6. Now comes the toughest test of the season, a game at San Francisco.

Stock watch: You knew quarterback Cam Newton couldn't keep up his unbelievable three-game pace of completing 77.3 percent of his passes and compiling a passer rating of just over 130. He wasn't close with a rating of 68.4, throwing two first-half interceptions and missing receivers high all day to take away big plays. But he made some big plays in the second half with his legs, rushing three times for 22 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown run with nine minutes left to seal this one.

Stock watch II: Wide receiver Brandon LaFell had arguably the best game of his career, catching a season-best seven passes for 74 yards. Many were tough catches, too. He was a bit lucky as well, recovering his own fumble at the Atlanta 8 to set up a fourth-quarter touchdown.

Stewart debut: Jonathan Stewart's first carry since last November wasn't anything to write home about. The team's second all-time leading rusher, activated on Saturday from the PUP list after missing seven games with an ankle injury, was thrown for a 2-yard loss. His last play, a 16-yard carry around the left side, was. He finished with a team-best 43 yards on nine carries. He also contributed 22 yards receiving on three catches. He had quality touches like the Panthers wanted.

Riverboat Rivera: This is starting to become a weekly staple here. Coach Ron Rivera gambled on fourth-and-1 for the seventh time since Week 2. It's really not a gamble anymore. The Panthers converted for the fifth time, this one for a 14-yard touchdown from Cam Newton to tight end Greg Olsen in the first half. The five conversions, according to ESPN statistics, were tied for the most in the league to that point.

What's next? The Panthers travel to San Francisco to play the 49ers next Sunday at 4 p.m. ET.