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September 30, 2012

Falcons kick a FG, Panthers lead by a point

Score: Panthers 28, Falcons 27

Scoring play: A 33-yard field goal by Matt Bryant.

Drive: 9 plays, 65 yards, 2:58

Key play: Facing a 3-and-10, Matt Ryan found Julio Jones for the first time all game. The second-year wideout had been targeted four times before but they could not connect. The 30-yard pass brought the Falcons to midfield.

Time of game: 4:57 in the fourth quarter.

Worth mentioning: The Panthers have six sacks on the day, which is one away from tying the franchise high, which was last set in 2006.


Score: Panthers 28, Falcons 24

Scoring play: A 36-yard touchdown screen pass from Cam Newton to Kealoha Pilares.

Drive: 6 plays, 88 yards, 3:23.

Key play: With their backs to the end zone at their own 12-yard line, Newton passed down the near sideline to Greg Olsen for a 34-yard pickup.

Time of game: 7:55 in the fourth quarter.

Worth mentioning: That's Pilares' second career reception and his first receiving touchdown of his career. He took a kickoff back 101 yards for a touchdown last season against the Lions. 


Score: Falcons 24, Panthers 21

Scoring play: A 4-yard touchdown rush by Cam Newton.

Drive: 12plays, 77 yards, 7:01

Key play: On 3-and-8 from the Atlanta 19, Newton dropped back and found a huge hole in the middle of the line. He scampered for 15 yards before being upended at the 4-yard line.

Time of game: 3:16 in the third quarter.

Worth mentioning: After two seasons and three games, Armanti Edwards has recorded his first career catch. The App State product caught a 12-yard ball from Newton that extended the drive on third down. The next play he passed deep downfield for Steve Smith, but the pass fell incomplete.


Score: Falcons 24, Panthers 14

Scoring play: A 60-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Michael Turner.

Drive: 3 plays, 72 yards, 1:37.

Key play: With such a short drive, the key play was obviously the 60-yard catch and run. Haruki Nakamura missed an arm tackle, and Captain Munnerlyn gave chase before he was blocked just as he closed in on Turner. It was Turner's first receiving TD of his career.

Time of game: 10:17 in the third quarter.

Worth mentioning: Atlanta has all of the momentum right now. The Falcons scored with less than two minutes left in first half, then held Carolina on its drive heading into halftime. 

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on September 30, 2012 at 02:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

Halftime blog: Falcons 17, Panthers 14


Matt Ryan threw a pair of touchdown passes to Roddy White to put the Falcons up 17-14 at halftime against the Panthers Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

Ryan completed 13 of 20 passes for 144 yards with the two scores, and one interception.

The Panthers' defense, which had given up 80-yard touchdown drives on the opening series of their first three games, came to play Sunday.

The Panthers forced a three-and-out on the Falcons' opening possession, and later turned back Atlanta after the Falcons had driven to the half-yard line. Safety Haruki Nakamura thwarted that scoring threat by intercepting Matt Ryan at the goal line.

Meanwhile, the Panthers stayed patient with their running game, getting good mileage out of the zone read package. Cam Newton had a 32-yard run on an option keeper to set up the Panthers' first touchdown – a 17-yard catch by Greg Olsen that put the Panthers up 7-0.

DeAngelo Williams' 13-yard touchdown run had given the Panthers a 14-10 lead with 8:50 left in the first half.

Nakamura was involved in seemingly every big play in the first half – good and bad.

He gave up both touchdown catches White, including a 49-yarder on which Nakamura got turned around and allowed White to make an easy grab in the end zone.

Later in the second quarter, Nakamura had a nice pass breakup in the end zone on a pass intended for Julio Jones.

But on the Falcons' final drive of the first half, Nakamura was late breaking on a throw to Jones, who had gotten behind linebacker Jon Beason.

Newton was 9-of-13 for 90 yards and was the Panthers' leading rusher with 40 yards on three carries.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on September 30, 2012 at 02:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Ryan finds White for a TD, Falcons lead 17-14

Score: Falcons 17, Panthers 14

Scoring play: A 14-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Roddy White.

Drive: 10 plays, 51 yards, 3:40.

Key play: On 3-and-5 and just in field-goal range, the Falcons and Ryan found White in the middle of the field for a nine-yard gain to continue to drive.

Time of game: 1:49 in the second quarter.

Worth mentioning: Both of the Falcons' touchdowns have come via passes from Ryan to White. And on both of the scores, free safety Haruki Nakamura has not been able to defend the passes.


Score: Panthers 14, Falcons 10

Scoring play: A 13-yard touchdown rush by DeAngelo Williams.

Drive: 7 plays, 79 yards, 4:27

Key play: Catching his first pass of the game on 2-and-4 was Steve Smith. Jonathan Stewart picked up the Atlanta blitz well and gave Cam Newton enough time in the pocket to find Smith in the seam. The 27-yard gain set up Williams' 13-yard touchdown rush.

Time of game: 8:44 in the second quarter.

Worth mentioning: The Panthers' game plan, like most teams playing the Falcons, is to keep Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan off the field. With a stout defense in the red zone and a 79-yard offensive drive, the Panthers are sticking to that plan well.


Score: Falcons 10, Panthers 7

Scoring play: A 41-yard field goal by Matt Bryant.

Drive: 6 plays, 7 yards, 2:05.

Key play: Defensive end Charles Johnson is having himself a game in his home state of Georgia. He's already been credited with two .5 sacks, and he sacked Matt Ryan on 2-and-1 for a loss of 13. He also pulled Ryan's facemask, which resulted in a 15-yard penalty, but it kept the Falcons at bay in the red zone.

Time of game: 13:11 in the second quarter.

Worth mentioning: The Falcons are 1-for-2 in the red zone for 3 points. Their first trip resulted in a Caorlina interception, and their second trip a field goal after getting to the 19-yard line.


Score: Panthers 7, Falcons 7

Scoring play: A 49-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Roddy White.

Drive: 3 plays, 77 yards, 1:30.

Key play: After two strong rushes by Michael Turner that resulted in 28 yards, Ryan used play action to fool FS Haruki Nakamura. White, the NFL's leader in receptions since 2010, beat Nakamura down the middle of the field for the grab.

Time of game: 0:26 in the first quarter.

Worth mentioning: Atlanta's previous possession was a 17-play drive that saw the Falcons on the half-yard line before a penalty backed them up. Nakamura intercepted a Ryan pass, Ryan's second of the year, to end the threat and give the Panthers momentum.


Score: Panthers 7, Falcons 0

Scoring play: A 17-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Greg Olsen.

Drive: 5 plays, 53 yards, 2:29.

Key play: On 2-and-7 from midfield, Cam Newton opted to run down the near sideline to pick up 32 yards and put the Panthers in the red zone. The run was similar to his option for 40 yards against the Saints that set up a score in Carolina's lone win this year.

Time of game: 11:45 in the first quarter.

Worth mentioning: It's the first time all season the Panthers have not allowed an opponent to score a touchdown on their opening drive. Likewise, it's the first time Carolina has scored on its opening drive all year.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on September 30, 2012 at 01:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Panthers bench Adams after fumbles


Joe Adams went from the Panthers' starting kick and punt returner to inactive.

That's what two fumbles will do.

Adams, the fourth-round pick from Arkansas, was benched after mishandling a punt and fumbling the second-half kickoff in a 36-7 loss to the Giants on Sept. 20.

Kealoha Pilares will return kicks Sunday against the Falcons. Captain Munnerlyn is expected to handle the punt returns.

Both of the Panthers' veteran linebackers – Jon Beason and Thomas Davis – are active after battling injuries. Beason has had issues with his shoulder and knee; Davis has a calf injury.

Running back Jonathan Stewart, who missed the Giants' game with a toe injury, also is active and expected to play.

The other Panthers' inactives besides Adams: QB Jimmy Clausen, S D.J. Campbell, OL Bruce Campbell, G Mike Pollak, DE Antwan Applewhite and DT Frank Kearse.

--Joseph Person


Posted by Observer Sports on September 30, 2012 at 11:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

September 28, 2012

Stewart probable, Davis and Beason questionable vs. Falcons

Running back Jonathan Stewart will likely take the field for the first time since Sept. 16 when the Panthers play at Atlanta on Sunday.

Stewart is listed as probable on the Panthers' injury report Friday along with CB Chris Gamble, S/ST Colin Jones, T Byron Bell and DE Thomas Keiser.

Listed as questionable for the Panthers are three top defensive players. LB Thomas Davis participated fully in practice Friday after suffering a calf injury that kept him out of last Thursday's game versus the Giants.

DE Greg Hardy is questionable after he broke his thumb early in the Giants' game. Head coach Ron Rivera said Hardy's hand will likely be wrapped fully for the game.

Starting MLB Jon Beason has dealt with shoulder and knee injuries since before the Giants' game. He said Beason's soreness tomorrow after Friday's practice will play a big role in his status for Sunday.

"He looked good,"Rivera said of Beason at Friday's practice. "Mentally he was in it and that’s the best part. He stayed Monday, Wednesday, Thursday. He stayed in it so when he came out (to practice), the limited reps he took were spot-on so that’s a huge plus."

Listed as out is G Mike Pollak (shoulder) and doubtful is DE Antwan Applewhite (knee).

--Jonathan Jones


Posted by Observer Sports on September 28, 2012 at 01:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

September 27, 2012

Panthers not moving Kuechly to the middle

Even if Panthers middle linebacker Jon Beason can't play against Atlanta, Panthers coach Ron Rivera will not move Luke Kuechly to the middle.

Kuechly set NCAA tackling records as a middle linebacker at Boston College, but he's settled in at the weakside spot after the Panthers drafted him No. 9 overall last spring.

“The one thing we want to be careful of is moving Luke too soon,” Rivera said Thursday. “Luke could probably play some Mike for us. He'll do it in the sub-package, with Jon not playing. And who knows, if this is extended, maybe we will consider doing that.”

Jason Phillips, who started all four preseason games while Beason was out, will get the call against the Falcons if Beason can't go.

The Panthers have not ruled Beason out for Sunday's game. But the three-time, Pro Bowler has yet to practice this week as he nurses shoulder and knee injuries.

“The shoulder and knee obviously are concerns. And the one thing we need to be careful of is getting him back out there and he tries to play through it again and does more damage,” Rivera said. “That's probably why we're being overly cautious right now.”

Rivera said he felt good about RB Jonathan Stewart's chances to play against the Falcons. Stewart has practiced on a limited basis this week after missing the Giants' game on Sept. 20 with a toe injury.

Rivera said DE Antwan Applewhite (lacerated knee) and OL Mike Pollak (shoulder) likely are out this week. DE Greg Hardy practiced for the first time Thursday since breaking his thumb covering a punt against the Giants.

 --Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on September 27, 2012 at 03:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

September 26, 2012

Newton: No problem with 'big brother' Smith

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said Wednesday during his weekly press conference that veteran wide receiver Steve Smith is like a big brother to him.

Newton brushed off the news from last week that detailed a late-game sideline discussion he had with Smith in which the receiver said he "lit into" the second-year quarterback.

"Steve Smith talks to me every single day. And obviously it’s a teaching moment, so for you to just single something out like that is kind of bogus for me," Newton said. "Because after this meeting he’s probably going to say something to me. I look up to Smitty as if he’s my big brother, and he has a very big impact on how I play and just having a mindset because he has done it and has lived it.

"I have much respect for Smitty, and yeah he talked to me after the game, but he talked to me the day after too, and will probably talk to me again today. It’s nothing like when Smitty talks to me it’s a big deal because I feel like I can call Smitty on any case—on the field or off the field."

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on September 26, 2012 at 03:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (27)

September 24, 2012

Criticism of celebration brings change



Cleveland Browns wide receiver Greg Little does the Usain Bolt pose after a first down during Sunday's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Carolina Panthers Cam Newton isn't the only Carolinas athlete facing scrutiny over celebrations when his team is losing.

Former North Carolina wide receiver Greg Little, now with the Cleveland Browns, said Monday after practice that he’s not going to do “the Bolt pose” after first downs because it’s being perceived negatively.

“I think,” Little said, “if we were 3-0 I think everybody would be doing the pose, but we’re 0-3 so everybody does not want to see that.”

We'll find out Wednesday how Cam Newton reacts to similar criticism.


Posted by Observer Sports on September 24, 2012 at 05:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Rivera: Smith's words to Newton should have stayed private

Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said Monday that he believed Steve Smith's discussion with Cam Newton in the fourth quarter of the New York Giants game should have stayed in the locker room.

"When two players talk about things and it's between them, it stays between them and we move on from there and look at the fact that we play Atlanta on Sunday," Rivera said at his Monday press conference.

The confrontation made national news last week after it was reported that Smith went to a sulking Newton on the sideline after the quarterback had thrown his third interception of the game. The 12-year wide receiver and one of the team captains said he had some "unchoice words" for the second-year star quarterback to get off the bench and watch the game with the rest of the team on the sideline.

Rivera said he does not think the issue will divide the two men, but he reiterated that he would have preferred that conversation stay within the locker room walls.

"It's all part of it. You've got to learn to accept it whether you get criticized or you're the one criticizing," Rivera said. "You take it for what it is, and it's a discussion. And honestly, I just wish it was a discussion that would have been kept between the two of them. I don't think it needs to be out there. But that's what happened so I'm going to leave it at that."

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Sunday that Newton has been seeing a "mind coach" to help him adjust to the expectations surrounding the quarterback following his Rookie of the Year performance.

Rivera said if Newton was seeing a coach, it's no one affiliated with the team. But Rivera praised the 23-year-old for seeking one out.

"Anytime guys find opportunities to help them deal with certain situations and circumstances that's great, and I mean it<" Rivera said. "I got a guy on speed dial that I talk to who's a sports psychologist that I've known since 1999, and he's been outstanding with me. So I see no problems or issues with it. I think it's outstanding that he's been proactive and trying to help himself, if that's what he's doing."

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on September 24, 2012 at 12:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (67)

September 21, 2012

Smith gets on Newton for his sideline sulking

In the final minutes of the Panthers' 36-7 loss to the Giants on Thursday, veteran wideout Steve Smith lit into quarterback Cam Newton on the sideline and told him to get off the bench and stop sulking.

After Newton threw his third interception with 6:36 remaining in the game, backup quarterback Derek Anderson began warming up on the sideline. Anderson came in with about a minute left for the final series.

I watched D.A. and Jimmy (Clausen), they don't play in 20-something games last year. And they get up and they observe and learn and get those mental reps,” Smith said. “I told him, 'You can get some mental reps or you can sit on that bench and sulk.'”

Smith, a team captain, said he used some “unchoice words” with Newton, who was criticized last year for putting a towel over his head and sitting on the bench at the end of losses.

This is the second time in as many seasons the Panthers' captains have talked to Newton about his demeanor. Offensive linemen Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil took Newton aside last year and said he needed to bring more positive energy to the huddle.

Newton was not available for comment Friday. A team spokesman said he would be available on Wednesday, per the team's normal policy with Newton.

Smith said he's more concerned about Newton's development as a person than as a leader. But Smith knows how important Newton is to the organization.

Cam Newton has a very unique opportunity to be a franchise quarterback to an organization that needs one,” Smith said. “Statistics don't lie. Athletic quarterbacks, they either excel or they fail. And I told Cam that.

This is an opportunity for him to learn – at that time they were benching him – and observe. They put D.A. in. You can sit there, if this is the worst is going to get you're in for a long day and this is not what it's about.”

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he handles Newton in his own way, and believes questions about his leadership will be moot when the team starts winning.

As for Smith's exchange with Newton, Rivera said: "He’s a team captain and he went up and expressed his feelings. That’s between them. I do know that team captains have that responsibility. They feel they have the responsibilities to the team and they’ll handle them accordingly."

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on September 21, 2012 at 12:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (102)