NFC South: Panthers-Falcons

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

 
 AP Photo/Rob Carr
 Atlanta receiver Harry Douglas (83) steps though an attempted tackle by Carolina Panthers fullback Brad Hoover (45) during the Falcons 45-28 win over Carolina Sunday.

ATLANTA -- Back in minicamp and even at the start of training camp, the guy who won Sunday's game for the Atlanta Falcons wasn't even allowed to hang his clothes in their locker room.

That's Harry Douglas. He's the rookie wide receiver, return man and wannabe lawyer who weighs 171 pounds and knocked what had been the NFC South's best team flat. All Douglas did was score on a reverse in the first quarter, a 61-yard punt return in the fourth and set up two other scores as the Falcons defeated the Carolina Panthers 45-28 at the Georgia Dome.

When Douglas, the greatest rookie show to hit Atlanta since the days of Matt Ryan, walks into the team's facility at Flowery Branch on Monday, he'll be able to hang his clothes wherever he wants. But it hasn't always been that way.

Before the Falcons began cutting their roster, all the players couldn't fit in the main locker room. All the rookies, including Ryan, were stashed about 30 feet away in the locker room of the Arena Football League's Georgia Force.

Some day, the Falcons may have to take that space and make it a museum to what, through 11 games anyway, is shaping up to be one of the best draft classes in NFL history.

"That's where the bond all started,'' said middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, a second-round draft pick. "Maybe no one else knew it, but I think back there was where we felt that we had some special guys.''

Back in the summer, Douglas instantly was the social leader of the bunch. He's a talker with a degree in political science from Louisville and a desire to go into corporate law when football is over.

"Harry's smart enough to be a lawyer, but I'd say comedian before lawyer if you asked me what he'd be if he wasn't playing football,'' Lofton said. "The guy's always laughing and joking. He's just one of those guys who's always fun to be around, in life and on the field.''

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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

ATLANTA -- In his first four seasons with the San Diego Chargers, Michael Turner rushed for six touchdowns. In 11 games since joining the Falcons, Turner has run for 13 touchdowns.

To put that in perspective, Turner already is tied for second in rushing touchdowns in a season in Atlanta's history. Jamal Anderson set the record with 14 in 1998. Turner's tied with Gerald Riggs, who had 13 in 1984. T.J. Duckett ranks fourth with 11 in 2003.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

ATLANTA -- At a time when Harry Douglas was emerging as a household name in Georgia and the NFC South standings were getting a new leader, a solitary figure sat at the end of the Atlanta Falcons' bench.

It was Atlanta's best defensive player, John Abraham. That's what made what Atlanta's offense did in the fourth quarter so amazing. Abraham went down with an unspecified injury with 13 minutes and 13 seconds left in the game and the Panthers rallying.

No problem for an Atlanta defense that's a lot better than most people realize. Even without Abraham, the Atlanta defense was able to slow Jake Delhomme. Backup defensive end Chauncey Davis came through with a key sack while Abraham was out and the Falcons (7-4) are very much in the NFC South race.

They knocked Carolina (8-3) from the top spot and allowed Tampa Bay (also 8-3, but with a head-to-head victory against the Panthers) to slide into first place.

Who's Harry Douglas?

November, 23, 2008
11/23/08
7:05
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

ATLANTA -- I'll be heading down to the Falcons' locker room in a few moments and, barring a major comeback by Carolina, I'll be writing about Harry Douglas.

To some, mainly the Panthers, that brings to mind one question: Who's Harry Douglas?

Here's the quick summary. Full story coming.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

ATLANTA -- It's easy to forget Carolina's Jake Delhomme has some mobility. That's because he hadn't been to the end zone (except to celebrate some touchdown passes) in nearly three years.

But that streak was snapped in the fourth quarter on a 4-yard touchdown run by Delhomme. Prior to that, the last time Delhomme ran for a touchdown was Dec. 18, 2005 at New Orleans.

Atlanta rookies just keep emerging

November, 23, 2008
11/23/08
5:03
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

ATLANTA -- I'm starting to wonder if Falcons first-year general manager Thomas Dimitroff has made a bad move yet.

Douglas

We know all about the free-agent signing of running back Michael Turner and the drafting of quarterback Matt Ryan with the third-overall pick. Both wonderful moves.

But what's really jumping out at me right now is the rest of Dimitroff's first draft class. It seems like it gets better every week. Today's evidence: Harry Douglas.

The second of Atlanta's three third-round picks, Douglas scored Atlanta's first touchdown on a 3-yard run. He's a wide receiver by trade, but the run and his contributions as the punt returner are having huge impacts.

Douglas, a Louisville product, set up Atlanta's second touchdown with a nice punt return and he's getting more time at wide receiver. Throw him in with defensive back Chevis Jackson, who returned an interception for a touchdown two weeks ago and continues to get more playing time.

Add those two on to Ryan and left tackle Sam Baker, who had played very well before suffering a back injury that has him sidelined today. And don't forget second-round pick Curtis Lofton, who already has established himself as a solid middle linebacker.

It's looking like Dimitroff has hit on his first five draft picks. Might be time to start keeping an eye out for safety Thomas DeCoud, the third of Atlanta's third-round picks.

Turner burns past 1,000

November, 23, 2008
11/23/08
4:31
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Turner

ATLANTA -- Michael Turner just became the first NFC South running back to hit 1,000 rushing yards for the season.

Yeah, the number itself isn't that important. But it's further proof that Turner was right in his belief that he had the ability to be a featured back when he was serving as LaDainian Tomlinson's backup in San Diego.

It's also further proof that Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith made perhaps the best move of all of free agency when they signed Turner. Smith said from Day 1 he wanted to have a consistently strong running game. The Falcons got precisely that when they went out and signed Turner.

Carolina-Atlanta inactives

November, 23, 2008
11/23/08
2:52
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

ATLANTA -- Just got the inactives for the Atlanta and Carolina game and there are no real surprises. Here you go.

Panthers: D.J. Hackett, C.J. Wilson, Landon Johnson, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Frank Omiyale, Kenneth Moore, Darwin Walker and Matt Moore will be the inactive third quarterback. The only thing of note here is that Hackett's absence probably makes Dwayne Jarrett the third receiver. Hackett and Jarrett have bounced between that role all season and neither has been able to establish himself as a consistent threat.

Falcons: D.J. Shockley, Laurent Robinson, Jamaal Fudge, David Irons, Tony Gilbert, Ben Wilkerson, Sam Baker and Kindal Moorehead.

Audibles: Week 12 NFC South preview

November, 21, 2008
11/21/08
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Detroit Lions (0-10) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3), 1 p.m. ET
It's been pretty amazing in the Tampa Bay area this week. There seems to be a large chunk of the population that suddenly is very worried about the winless Detroit Lions.

The theory goes something like this -- the Lions have former Bucs assistant Rod Marinelli as their head coach (as of the moment, anyway) and a bunch of former Tampa Bay players on their roster and this game has "trap'' written all over it.

Yeah, but there's a reason why all those guys are "former'' Bucs and this game should have "win'' written all over it. Sure, the Bucs often make things more interesting than necessary. But, if they're going to overtake Carolina in this division, the Bucs have to take care of the easy games as the Panthers head into the hard part of their schedule.

Carolina Panthers (8-2) at Atlanta Falcons (6-4), 4:15 p.m. ET
A couple years ago, the Panthers were getting such bad play at quarterback (Chris Weinke), they went into the Georgia Dome and Dan Henning and John Fox resorted to the Wildcat formation that has become the rage around the rest of the league this year.

Jake Delhomme's struggled mightily, passing for less than 100 yards in each of the last two games. And those were against Detroit and Oakland. But I just don't see the Panthers resorting to something so desperate this time around. Although running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have done a nice job bailing Delhomme out the last two weeks.

I look for the Panthers to get back to their most basic offensive philosophy this week. That's Delhomme throwing the ball to Steve Smith, repeatedly. That's also a good way to bust a slump.

Green Bay Packers (5-5) at New Orleans Saints (5-5), 8:30 p.m. ET, Monday
First the good news: The Saints will be playing in the Superdome for the first time in 42 days. Now, the bad: It's a Monday night game.

When it comes to "Monday Night Football," the Saints have been horrible. Only the Falcons have a worse history under the brightest of lights. The Saints are 8-17 (.320) in appearances on Monday. The Falcons are 9-21 (.300).

And you can't even make the case that the Saints' Monday woes all stem back from the bad old days. The last time the Saints played a game on Monday night was one of the most disastrous games in franchise history.

Earlier this year, they squandered two punt returns for touchdowns by Reggie Bush and a late fourth-quarter lead and lost to the Minnesota Vikings. At 5-5, there is no margin for error for the Saints. They have to find a way to win this game (and just about all the rest) to make the playoffs.

 
 Getty Images
 Carolina's John Fox (left) and Atlanta's Mike Smith have plenty of similarities in their coaching backgrounds.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

The first time I ever laid eyes on Atlanta coach Mike Smith, it took about three minutes to figure out I'd met him before.

Well, I truly hadn't met Smith before the May night the Falcons had a little get-acquainted reception with the media during an NFL meeting in Atlanta. But I'd met the exact same guy about six years earlier in Charlotte.

When it comes right down to it, the Smith of today is John Fox, circa 2002, and only slightly different now.

When they shake hands before or after what suddenly is an NFC South showdown between the Falcons and Carolina Panthers in the Georgia Dome on Sunday, somebody should snap a picture and see if two different guys really do show up.

Physically, they're the same -- silver hair with the build of former college players who haven't been working out for a while. But it goes way beyond the physical. Fox and Smith think, talk, act and, most important of all, coach alike.

Fox often tells his players "be the same guy" and that's pretty much what he's done since he arrived in Charlotte to clean up George Seifert's 1-15 mess. That's set a pretty nice precedent for success in the NFC South.

There's little doubt Falcons owner Arthur Blank didn't at least consider what Fox had done with the Panthers when he was looking around for someone to clean up Bobby Petrino's mess. Much like Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, Blank wasn't afraid to learn from his mistakes and go with a resume that didn't have much glitz -- but a resume that was exactly what his franchise needed.

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