The Panthers ended their four-game losing streak with a 19-13 win over the Falcons in Week 8.
The Panthers picked up a huge win against a division rival — and ended a miserable four-game losing streak — on Sunday when they defeated the Falcons 19-13 in Atlanta. The Panthers improved their 2021 record to 4-4 and are hopeful that yesterday’s win was the first step towards turning this season back around and competing for a playoff spot.
Below are four takeaways I had from yesterday’s game, in no particular order.
The Panthers offense finally found a gameplan that works
Matt Rhule said two weeks ago that he wanted to see the offense commit to the running game, and they finally did it this week against the Falcons to great success. The Panthers ran the ball 47 times yesterday for a total of 203 yards. Chuba Hubbard led the team with 24 carries for 82 yards and 1 touchdown, and Sam Darnold contributed 66 yards on 8 carries (more on this later). Darnold’s stat line won’t blow anyone away, but he did exactly what he needed to do: He took care of the football and didn’t lose the game. He was only 13-of-24 for 129 yards and 0 touchdowns, but he also had 0 interceptions, 0 fumbles and 0 sacks.
The Panthers were successful on third down (10-of-17), won the the turnover battle (2-to-1) and controlled the time of possession (35:23 to 24:37). That’s how you win on the road against a division rival, and now that the Panthers have a blueprint for how to win we have to hope that they’re able to continue following it over the rest of the season.
I also have to give a special shoutout to the offensive line after their performance yesterday. They’ve dealt with injuries and moving parts every week this season, but they really stepped up yesterday and allowed the offense to do its job. They protected Darnold from being sacked and gave him the time needed to successfully operate the offense. Hopefully we see more of that going forward.
There could be trouble at quarterback
While the offensive line did an admirable job at protecting Darnold from the Falcons’ pass rush, they couldn’t protect him from himself. Darnold rushed eight times for 66 yards, but on his final rushing attempt with 7:31 left in the fourth quarter he took a hard hit and left the game. He was later ruled out for the remainder of the game with a concussion, and his status is officially in doubt for this week’s game against the Patriots. It’s highly likely that Darnold will miss at least one week, and it’s possible that he could miss more time than that depending on the severity of his concussion.
This puts the Panthers in quite a bind, because while Darnold hasn’t been a world-beater over the last four weeks, PJ Walker hasn’t instilled much confidence when he’s been on the field either. There’s a chance the Panthers may have to bring someone in if Darnold will miss multiple weeks, so that’s definitely something we’re going to have to keep an eye on. There aren’t a lot of options out there — and no, I don’t think Cam Newton would pick up the phone if we called him — so we could be in for a rough couple of weeks if Darnold has to miss significant time.
Chuba Hubbard responded well to adversity
When Hubbard fumbled on the first play of the game, my first thought was LOL because I honestly thought the Falcons were going to take advantage of the turnover and start another edition of ‘Why on earth do I watch this team?’, but I was happy to be proven wrong. Hubbard put that fumble behind him and led the team with 82 rushing yards on 24 carries, and put the game away in the fourth quarter with a 6-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers a 9-point lead.
Hubbard has mostly played well during Christian McCaffrey’s absence, and while he has not shown that he’s ready to be the team’s feature back, he has shown enough to still get a healthy share of carries when McCaffrey returns so CMC doesn’t have to touch the ball 400 times per game. (Do you hear that, Joe Brady? CMC doesn’t have to touch the ball 400 times per game.) Hopefully we’ll still see Hubbard get 10-ish touches per game to continue his development, because I believe there’s some hope for him to be a feature back once he has a bit more experience. (And when he learns how to catch the football. He definitely needs to learn how to do that.)
The defense got their groove back
The Panthers defense did a great job yesterday. They held the Falcons to 13 points, only allowed 17 first downs, forced the Falcons to go 3-of-10 on third down, picked off Matt Ryan twice, sacked Ryan three times, gave up just 213 total yards and held star rookie tight end Kyle Pitts to just 2 catches for 13 yards (on 6 targets).
Shaq Thompson returned from injury and showed that he is a key contributor on defense with 10 tackles (8 solo), 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass defended and 1 interception. Stephon Gilmore made his Panthers debut and contributed 2 tackles (1 solo), 1 pass defended and 1 interception. Haason Reddick and Yetur Gross-Matos each picked up a sack, and Brian Burns and Frankie Luvu combined for a sack of their own.
The defense hit Matt Ryan 9 times (Reddick and Jermaine Carter co-led the defense with 2 quarterback hits each) and tallied 5 tackles for loss. This is the kind of performance we’re used to seeing from the defense in 2021, and it was nice to see them return to form after watching them struggle during the losing streak. (Of course, it helps when the offense stays on the field long enough for the defense to rest so they’re not exhausted in the fourth quarter. It’s amazing how good the defense can be when they don’t have to play 85 percent of the snaps.)
The Panthers may have (finally) found their solution at kicker
I know I’m probably going to jinx it and ruin everything, but Zane Gonzalez looks to have found his footing here in Carolina. He was 4-of-4 on field goal attempts yesterday (including two kicks over 50 yards) and made his only extra point attempt. The Panthers would not have won the game yesterday without Gonzalez considering he scored 13 of the team’s 19 points, so it’s nice to see the Panthers have an accurate kicker again. He still needs to work on kicking the ball into the end zone on kickoffs, but as long as the coverage unit continues to do their job, I’m willing to sacrifice a few yards on kickoffs in the trade for accuracy on field goal attempts. (Hopefully I didn’t just ruin everything by jinxing him, but if I did you have my permission to yell at me.)
What stood out to you this week, Panthers fans? Share your thoughts with us!