They say anything can happen on "Any Given Sunday" in the NFL and that's just what happened this week in Charlotte as the 3-9 Panthers took it to the one loss Atlanta Falcons. The Panthers came out motivated and simply dominated the Falcons in the first half.
How dominant were the Panthers? In the first half, the Falcons had just three possessions, just 13 plays and gained just 35 yards. The Panthers methodically moved the ball up and down the field on the Falcons and to compound things, the Falcons offense could not sustain drives which kept a tired defense, and depleted secondary, on the field all half long for the Falcons.
Before we throw the white flag in let's take a look at what this means for the season. The ultimate measuring stick for the Falcons is to be successful this season in the playoffs. That could mean winning one game, two games or winning the Super Bowl. Let's take a look at some of the past Super Bowl champions and some failures they've had in December. Last years tournament winner, the New York Giants, lost in week 15 on December 18th to a Washington Redskins team that would finish just 5-11. The 2010 season champions, the Green Bay Packers, lost on December 12th to the Detroit Lions. The Lions won just six games in 2010. The 2009 New Orleans Saints lost their last three games of the season. Should I continue? The point is that all recent Super Bowl teams have had struggles in December. It's a myth that teams finish strong by sweeping December and then go into the Super Bowl hot.
The concern with the Falcons and this game is the way the Falcons came out and played. They were lethargic and didn't look like they want to be there. The Panthers, on the hand, were motivated and came to play. When you factor in those two things, and the fact that these are professional athletes, the motivated team is going to win 95% of the time. Quite simply this was the Panthers "Super Bowl" and hats should go off to them as they came out and were the better team this week.
Long-term for the Falcons, this game shouldn't have much of an effect other than helping to get our team re-focused. The biggest reason that the Panthers had so much success against the Falcons, other than simple motivation, was the spread option and any team that we play in the playoffs isn't going to have that in their playbook unless the Redskins sneak into the playoffs.
In the NFL, good and great teams look bad at times during every season. This was that game for the Falcons. All you can do is learn from it and move onto next week and start preparing for the part of the season that really matter, the playoffs.