Originally written on Pro Football Spot  |  Last updated 11/6/14
Despite coming off the hottest three-game stretch of his career, Cam Newton endured a shaky start Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. Newton, who hadn’t thrown a pick in nearly a month, threw two ill-advised passes that both resulted in Atlanta interceptions during the second quarter.The early offensive struggles from Carolina and their quarterback, however, were quickly forgotten as the Panthers rode a second half surge to a 34-10 win.Newton gave the Panthers a comfortable 24-10 lead with just over nine minutes remaining in the game after an eight-yard touchdown run. He completed 23 of his 37 attempts for 249 yards with a passing touchdown and the two interceptions. Greg Olsen (four receptions and 66 yards) was the recipient of Newton’s lone touchdown pass. Olsen’s score came off a play action pass on a 4th & 1 on Atlanta’s 14-yard line. Once again, the Panthers defense proved to be too much for their opponent. Carolina forced four turnovers, three of which on interceptions from Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Panthers cornerback Drayton Florence grabbed Ryan’s third pick and scored on a 38-yard return.The victory brings the Panthers to a 5-3 record and has them just one game behind the division-leading New Orleans Saints (6-2).The Panthers will travel to San Francisco to take on the 49ers (5-2) next Sunday.Three Up (by Anthony Rizzuti)1. The Supporting CastPrior to Sunday, the Panthers were 0-8 in games where Cam threw at least two interceptions. Well, we know that changed. But you know what else has changed? The help around Newton on offense.Although the Panthers were facing a struggling and depleted Falcons squad, this game was still considered as somewhat of a measuring stick. If they lost, they’d prove to be the same mediocre group as the past few years. But if they won, they’d show they were indeed a playoff contender. Thanks to Cam’s weapons, it was the latter.The Panthers’ rushing attack, led by the returning Jonathan Stewart, continued to have its way. Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert combined for 109 yards (3.9 per carry) and a score. (The score coming from a first quarter touchdown by Tolbert.)Newton was also able to spread the wealth amongst his receiving corps. The Panthers had three players (Olsen, Brandon LaFell and Steve Smith) with at least 50 receiving yards. If anything, this game proved that Cam does not have to carry the Panthers to wins by his lonesome. There’s help.2. Stingy DefenseTransitioning off of Newton-- he has been the second biggest reason for the Panthers’ current four-game win streak. The biggest? You guessed it—the defense.Sean McDermott’s unit continues to take care of business. In holding Ryan and Atlanta to just 10 points, the Panthers defense has not allowed a team to hit over 15 in these past four wins. Over their eight games in 2013, only two opponents have scored more than 20 points. (Buffalo with 23 in Week 2 and Arizona with 22 in Week 5.)Luke Kuechly led the charge, as he often does, with eight tackles and an interception against the Falcons. 3. ConfidenceYou can smell it in the air in Charlotte. The Panthers are a threat and they know it. Not only do they play like a postseason contender, but they also act like it. From the coaching staff to the fellas on the field, the Panthers reeked of confidence all day Sunday. Two instances, in particular, affirmed this. The first came on their successful 4th & 1 conversion in the second quarter. Ron Rivera, passing up a potential 10-3 on a field goal, opted to go for the first. Newton took a play action pass, the Falcons defense bit on Tolbert to the left and Olsen was left wide open in the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown.The second came on the Panthers’ last possession of the game. Up 31-10 on a 4th & 2 at Atlanta’s two-yard line, most of the players on offense vigorously tried to wave off the field goal unit. They wanted the touchdown.Ultimately, Rivera sent his field goal unit out and grabbed the easy three. Nonetheless, this team has now acquired a sense of confidence—a trait all playoff teams must have.Three Down (by Joe Riollano)Well the game was closer than the final score indicates, but the Panthers handled the Falcons. There was some good and there was some not so good. I will tell you what I am taking away from this game that I thought was not so good.1. Mike ShulaI don’t know why, but Mike Shula did not want to use the running game the way he has during our 3 game win streak. In the previous three weeks we have been effective running the ball and even when we did not run it great, we stayed committed to it. For whatever reason today Shula regressed back to the play calling we witnessed back at the beginning of the year. Cam, and for that matter, the entire offense looked out of sorts. Timing was off and Cam just did not look comfortable. In the second half, Shula decided to get back to the run game and then things began to click. We were not the crisp offense we had seen the previous three weeks but we won. I think if we would have committed to the run earlier, we would have wrapped this up in the first half. A strong running attack is what the foundation of this offense should be.2. Offensive LineI hate to keep beating a dead horse but this line is just pathetic when it comes to pass blocking. When this line is able to run block early in the game it benefits them later in the game. By running the ball effectively, the defense has to remain honest. They cannot focus solely on getting to the quarterback. I do not place all of the blame on the offensive line, the coaching staff decided to go away from the game plan that has worked so well over the previous three weeks. This unit is clearly the weakest of all the units on the team.3. Cam Newton Well specifically Cam Newton’s mechanics. When Cam has time he does tend to get into a good position from which to throw the ball from. It is when he is hurried his mechanics go out the window. He throws off his back foot too often. With this being his third year in the league one would expect these bad habits to have been corrected by now.. Well it seems when hurried, Cam will revert back to those bad habits.These are things that can/will be worked out. Coaching, play calling, and the upcoming draft will fix these issues that are still plaguing this team. For all that was ugly and ineffective today, we won. The mark of a good team is one that plays poorly and yet still finds some way to win. We are getting better and our elite defense allows for our, sometimes dynamic, offense to get away with making some mistakes. Good win today. But this is only the first step on the path to the postseason.Notes:- The Panthers defense relinquished their first first half touchdown of the season on a touchdown catch by Tony Gonzalez.- The Panthers have led at halftime in each of their eight games in 2013.- The Panthers won the possession battle, 36:25 to 23:35.
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