Carolina Panthers Schedule: Defending NFC Champions Dig A Deeper Hole With A 48-33 Loss To Atlanta Falcons In Week 4 Of 2016 NFL Season

The Carolina Panthers traveled to Atlanta, GA during Week 4 of the 2016 NFL Season looking to even their record at 2-2 and move into a tie for first in the NFC South. Unfortunately for the Panthers, the Atlanta Falcons scored the first 14 points of the game and took a 17-10 lead into halftime. The Falcons would then score the first 17 points of the second half to take a commanding 34-10 lead over the Panthers.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton would respond with a five-play 63-yard drive that only took 1:37 and ended with a six-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. On the ensuing two-point conversion, Newton kept the ball and just as he was about to cross the goal-line, he slowed up which led to a helmet-to-helmet hit from Falcons linebacker Deion Jones.

Cam came off the field and followed trainers to the locker room to go through the league-mandated concussion protocol. It was announced shortly after the game that Newton does in fact have a concussion which puts his status for Week 5 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football in jeopardy.

Facing a 34-18 deficit, backup quarterback Derek Anderson was called upon to try and pull out an improbable victory for the Carolina Panthers. With 4:05 left in the game, Anderson finished off a nine-play 94-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen. Anderson would then hit Olsen again for the two-point conversion which cut the deficit to 34-26.

Just as it looked as if the Panthers were ready to tie the game, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan hit wide receiver Julio Jones for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play following the Carolina touchdown. For the game, the Panthers allowed Ryan to complete 28-of-37 passes for 503 yards and four touchdowns with Jones catching 12 balls for 300 yards and a touchdown.

Despite the two-touchdown deficit with less than four minutes to play, Anderson and the Panthers continued to fight back. With two minutes left, Anderson hit wide receiver Corey Brown for a 16-yard touchdown to cut the Falcons’ lead to 41-33. Carolina still had all three timeouts left, but desperately needed the defense to force a three-and-out on the ensuing Atlanta possession.

For the first time all day, the defense came through and the Panthers got the ball back with 1:25 remaining. Things were finally looking good for Carolina, but Anderson received heavy pressure from the Falcons on the first play of the drive and threw a ball that shouldn’t have been thrown which was picked off by Atlanta corner Robert Alford and returned for a touchdown.

Down 48-33 with just over a minute remaining, the Carolina Panthers’ chances of pulling off the improbable comeback were finally shot. The loss pushes the defending NFC Champions and three-time defending NFC South Champions to 1-3 and leaves the Panthers two games behind the Falcons for the division lead with Atlanta holding the tiebreaker which essentially makes it a three-game lead.

Unlike Carolina’s previous two losses to the Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings, the defense played poorly in Sunday’s loss to the Falcons. The fact that defensive coordinator Sean McDermott couldn’t make any adjustments to contain Jones is beyond me. If you have to put three or four defenders on Julio every play, you do it and make someone else beat you.

That being said, the offense didn’t do the definitely didn’t do the defense any favors, especially in the first half, as Atlanta had a 7:38 time of possession advantage over the Panthers. McDermott’s unit has spent a lot of time on the field this season which leads to fatigue and blown assignments.

Heading into Week 5 against the Buccaneers, there are a lot of questions facing Carolina. Newton’s status is up in the air after suffering a concussion, linebacker Thomas Davis also left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury and wide receiver Devin Funchess left with a toe injury. The Panthers were already without Jonathan Stewart, Michael Oher and defensive tackle Vernon Butler.

It’s a must-win game for the Carolina Panthers, but it remains to be seen how starters will actually be able to play and if they play, will they play well enough to win? Only time will tell.

[Featured Image by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images]