By Matthew Asher
Atlanta may have had just three days to prepare for their game against the New Orleans Saints, but one of the benefits of playing on Thursday means you have 10 days to prepare for the next game. Just like with their bye week, the Falcons have enjoyed a few extra days of rest and are now ready to sweep the Carolina series when they head to the Bank of America Stadium this Sunday.
As mentioned earlier this week, Smitty has no plans to rest any of his key players in the final four games of the regular season if they are healthy. “I think we have the same type of mindset that we’ve had for the first three quarters of the season,” Smitty said. “We’ve still got a lot of football to play in this fourth quarter [of the season].”
Smitty only plans to rest players that are injured. Asante Samuel may be one of them. Despite playing part of the Saints game, Samuel was unable to finish the game. However, Asante was in the training room to start out this week of practice so he may be cleared by Friday. “We’ve got nine days in between games now, so hopefully, he’ll be feeling better as we get in our normal practice week on Wednesday” Smitty said on Tuesday when asked about Asante’s prognosis.
Should Asante have to sit out the Carolina game, don’t be too worried, Christopher Owens has been doing a fine job filling in at corner throughout the season, especially last week against the Saints. “He played the outside corner for us in that ballgame, and he made couple of big plays that were game changing plays,” Smitty said. “We talk about those handful of plays that make a difference and he was involved in two of them.”
Atlanta may be 11-1 and the Panthers were just defeated by the 2-10 Kansas City Chiefs, don’t expect this to be a walk in the park for the Falcons. Greg Hardy, a Carolina defensive end, believes that the Panthers are a better team than the Falcons.
“There’s a point where you know you’re better than someone,” Hardy said to the Charlotte Observer. “We just didn’t pull it out.” Anyone who saw the game would have hard time arguing that the two teams are definitely closer than their records would indicate. The last time these teams played, it took a 59-yard throw from Matt Ryan to Roddy White at the one-yard line and a last-second field goal by Matt Bryant for the Falcons to leave the Georgia Dome with a “W” against Carolina.
While Carolina may now just be playing for pride, nothing would currently make Hardy happier than handing Atlanta their second loss of the season. “I’m trying to mess up their whole playoff experience,” Hardy said. “I want them to go home sick in the stomach, mad about life, a couple depression issues, all types of things. It’s going to be a long day from my point of view. I’m coming.”
Clearly not one to mince words, Hardy and the rest of the Panthers defense gave Matt Ryan and company all they could handle in the early stages of this season. Kickoff is this Sunday at 1pm.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.