June 21, 2018

Refocused: Carolina Panthers 20, Atlanta Falcons 17

06 November 2017, 01:08 | Kristopher Drake

Refocused: Carolina Panthers 20, Atlanta Falcons 17

Refocused: Carolina Panthers 20, Atlanta Falcons 17

Today the Atlanta Falcons (4-4) lost to the Carolina Panthers (6-3), 20-17, in a game that had big NFC South ramifications. Two divisional wins later, things are looking much brighter. The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder has turned the clock back to his Auburn days when he routinely tore up defenses with his legs.

Speaking of the passing game, the post-Benjamin era did not get off to a great start. Funchess ended up with five catches for 86 yards, including a 33-yarder. He had a 4-yard touchdown on a pitchout as part of a day in which he had 66 yards rushing and 28 more receiving, including several plays he made for key first downs. If not, Carolina will be far too one-dimensional down the stretch. His two fumbles in the first quarter was an icing on the cake for one of the worst performances of his career.

However, the 10-year veteran's fumbling problem could cost him playing time.

Panthers QB Cam Newton ran a score in with just 23 seconds remaining in the first half that gave Carolina their first lead at 14-10, and Gano's two field goals would be the only points scored until Ryan found RB Tevin Coleman for a 19-yard touchdown pass with 3:25 left in the final frame. Though the Falcons could not capitalize, putting the ball on the ground twice is unacceptable for a team whose approach is predicated on a strong running game and tough defense. The Panthers didn't exactly light it up on offense, but the stingy defense did the job.

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Carolina has figured out a recipe for success this season.

The Falcons committed eight penalties, costing them 70 yards and nullifying some big plays on both sides of the ball. He managed just 13 yards on two punt returns. Meanwhile, Atlanta went into a funk, no play perhaps more telling than all-pro receiver Julio Jones dropping a wide open touchdown pass on a fourth down play in the fourth quarter. The 16-year veteran tallied his 151st career sack last week, moving him into fourth all-time in National Football League history behind Bruce Smith (200), Reggie White (198) and Kevin Greene (160).

Devonta Freeman, who signed a five-year, $41.25 million extension this offseason, ran for just 46 yards and averaged just 4.5 yards on four receptions. Atlanta's highest-profile players need to shake off the Super Bowl hangover if this team has any shot at a playoff spot.

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