By Matthew Asher
On Wednesday, Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy came under fire after he stated to the Charlotte Observer that the 3-9 Panthers are a better team than the 11-1 Falcons. With Carolina’s 30-20 beat down of Atlanta, if Hardy hasn’t already said “I told you so” to everyone who doubted him, he’s within his rights to stand by his claim.
Hardy was referring to the Week 4 game when Atlanta narrowly defeated Carolina 30-28. The Panthers were positioned to run the clock out, yet a Cam Newton fumble forced a Panther punt and gave the Falcons hope. “There’s a point where you know you’re better than someone,” Hardy said when referring to Week 4. “We just didn’t pull it out.”
While Hardy’s comments that the Panthers are truly a better team than the Falcons is still open to debate, you can’t argue the fact that the Panthers do match up very well against the Falcons, much like last year’s Washington Redskins team, which finished 5-11 but had two wins over the eventual Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.
This is one of those games where it’s pointless to try to sugarcoat anything the Falcons did well. Tony Gonzalez perfectly summarized the afternoon for the Falcons. “We can’t leave our defense out there like we did, and we’ve got to put points up,” Gonzalez said. “We’re too good of an offense…We’ve got too many players. Too much talent.”
That being said, don’t expect much in the way of complimenting the way Atlanta played today in this review.
Roddy White and Julio Jones get a B+ for their combined efforts. This is a tough one. While Matt Ryan did surpass the 300-yard passing mark for the eighth time this season (including the 299 yards in Week 1 against Kansas City), his efforts for a win this time were always too little, too late. Jones and White combined for 183 of Ryan’s 342 passing yards and both of his passing touchdowns. Roddy had game-highs with his nine receptions and 117 receiving yards.
Atlanta’s defense gets a D+. One of the keys to victory mentioned earlier this week was to make Cam Newton one-dimensional and force him to either beat Atlanta with his arm or his legs, but not both. Atlanta allowed Newton and company to essentially run over the Falcons defense the entire game. Newton was personally responsible for more than 400 of Carolina’s 475 yards of total offense.
Anybody who wants to see what the textbook definition of a “dual threat” quarterback is will definitely want to reference the display Newton showcased in this game. Newton was responsible for all three Panthers touchdowns, two through the air where he passed for nearly 290 yards and also had a 72-yard touchdown run as part of his 116 yards on the ground. In that one 72-yard score, Newton almost outgained the rest of the Panthers running attack, which finished with 79 yards on 23 carries.
From the beginning of the game, the Panthers were in control. Carolina scored on its first five possessions, shut out the Falcons in the first half and built up a 23-0 lead. Atlanta didn’t score until about halfway into the third quarter.
Atlanta’s running game, specifically Michael Turner yet again, get an F. The Week 4 game against Carolina was statistically the best game of the season for Turner. He broke the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time in the season and finished with 171 all-purpose yards, including a 60-yard touchdown catch.
This game was the exact opposite. Turner gained just 14 rushing yards on 7 attempts and made no catches. While he did score a touchdown for the fourth time in the past five games, his one-yard score came with less than four minutes left in the game with Atlanta already trailing by 17.
Atlanta’s other running back, Jacquizz Rodgers, had a better day, but let’s be honest, Turner didn’t exactly set the bar high this time. Rodgers had 21 rushing yards on four attempts and 43 receiving yards on six catches.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.