Breakdown: NFC South

September, 7, 2008
9/07/08
9:19
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Carolina 26, San Diego 24

It was only an opening day win, but Carolina's victory against San Diego ranks as one of the biggest victories in franchise history. It's definitely in the top five.

It's hugely significant because the Panthers went across the country, beat what was supposed to be one of the top teams in the NFL and did it without their best player (Steve Smith, who's suspended for the first two games). With Chicago coming to Charlotte next week, the Panthers have a decent shot at a 2-0 start. If the Panthers can do that without Smith, they could be in great shape the rest of the way.

That's why the victory was so important. For right now, I'll rank it third in franchise history. Here's the other four:

1. The NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia in the 2003 season. No one thought the Panthers could win that game either. They did and it put them in the Super Bowl.

2. The playoff victory against Dallas in the 1996 season. It was Carolina's first playoff victory.

4. The 1996 victory in San Francisco. It sent a message that the second-year team was for real.

5. The playoff victory against the Giants after the 2005 season. John Fox went into New York and coached the best game of his life.

Atlanta 34, Detroit 21

Not to put a damper on Atlanta's victory, but David Carr and Chris Weinke also won on opening day of their rookie year.

That's what Matt Ryan did against the Lions, but that doesn't mean he'll turn into Carr or Weinke. Ryan is a different personality than Carr, who never recovered from the shell shock of playing behind a horrible Houston offensive line.

He's also in a different situation than Carr and Weinke, who guided the 2001 Carolina Panthers to a 1-15 record as George Seifert's legacy disintegrated before our eyes.

I'm not saying it's going to be all roses for Ryan. There will be ups and downs are there are for any rookie quarterback (except Dan Marino). But the Falcons are handling Ryan perfectly so far.

They're not asking him to win games on his own. Against the Lions, he only attempted 13 passes, completing nine. That was possible because Michael Turner was running wild.

Defenses are going to start trying to do something Detroit didn't. They're going to start focusing on shutting down Atlanta's running game. Turner made things easy for Ryan on Sunday, but it's not going to be that easy every week.

New Orleans 24, Tampa Bay 20

NEW ORLEANS -- Their fans spent much of the offseason begging for a playmaker. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers said they already had enough.

Maybe, the fans were right. Last year's offense didn't excite, but it was good enough to get the Bucs to the playoffs. That won't happen again if the Bucs continue to play like they did in Sunday's loss to New Orleans. The normally-efficient Jeff Garcia wasn't.

Give some credit to the revamped New Orleans offense. But put plenty of blame on the Bucs. They couldn't make a big play. They had only one pass play go for more than 20 yards (a 26-yarder to Antonio Bryant).

Joey Galloway, who has torn the Saints apart in past years, was exceptionally quiet. After missing the entire preseason with a groin injury, Galloway had six catches for 56 yards. His longest catch went for 13 yards.

So much for a deep threat.

Tampa Bay's passing game isn't built around the downfield pass. It's a West Coast offense that relies on short and medium passes turning into big gains. That didn't happen Sunday and that's going to be a big problem if it continues.

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