Monthly Archives: November 2013

Carolina Panthers win 7th in a row; beat Miami 20-16

MIAMI – “Seven! Seven wins in a row for the Carolina Panthers! MWA! HA! HA!” (Count Von Count on the Panthers). The Panthers (8-3) are on a roll and have tied their franchise regular-season win streak (with the 1996 team) at seven games following another close win – this time at Miami (5-6). Quarterback Cam Newton led the black-clad visitors down the field on an 80-yard drive as time was running out, and the Panthers came away with a 20-16 victory. It was his second signature drive in seven days after having none in his first 41 games.

Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was not pleased with the team's effort in the first half of the game at Miami.
Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was not pleased with the team’s effort in the first half of the game at Miami.

The Panthers went into halftime trailing 16-6, and it could have been worse. Head coach Ron Rivera was furious at halftime because he felt, in his words, that the Panthers had “disrespected” the Dolphins by not playing hard enough. When the team came back onto the field at Sun Life Stadium, it was a different bunch of guys. Focused, physical and determined. Yet it took another gamble by “Riverboat Ron” to put the Cats in position to win the game.

Facing a fourth-and-10 at their own 20 with 2:33 left on the clock, the Panthers trailed Miami 16-13. Rivera, who said he prefers “Calculated Risk-Taker” to “Riverboat Ron,” played the odds.

According to an advanced NFL statistics website’s win-probability calculator, the Panthers had a 14 percent chance of winning before the fourth-down snap. Had Carolina punted, and using the average Brad Nortman punt from Sunday, the Dolphins would have gotten the ball back with an 88 percent chance to win, and the Panthers would be left with one timeout and the 2-minute warning.

“We got to do it,” Rivera said of his decision. “We only had one timeout left. You know this (Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill) is a very elusive quarterback. He showed it.”

A 19-yard completion to Smith got the Panthers a first down, and a 9-yard pass to tight end Greg Olsen got them near midfield at the 2-minute warning.

Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen caught Cam Newton's one-yard touchdown pass to give the Panthers a 20-16 win in Miami.
Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen caught Cam Newton’s one-yard touchdown pass to give the Panthers a 20-16 win in Miami.

Driving down the field while working the clock down, Newton found tight end Greg Olsen open on a 1-yard touchdown pass with 43 seconds left.  The touchdown gave the Panthers their first lead of the game, as well as the victory in front of a crowd of 60,156 and a lot of empty orange seats at Sun Life Stadium.

The game did not really feature the back-and-forth scoring as in last week against New England…yet it did come down to the opponent trying to score a last-second touchdown via the pass to take the victory from the Panthers. This time, there would be no controversial ending. Instead, second-year Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw a Hail Mary pass to the one-yard line, hoping receiver Mike Wallace would come up with the miracle catch. He almost did. Wallace was a thorn in the side of the Panthers defensive backs, who collectively had a horrible day. On the game’s final play, Panthers free safety Mike Mitchell somehow let Wallace get behind him near the goal line, but this time Wallace was unable to make the catch and the game ended.

GAME NOTES:

  • On the first series of the game, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who does not wear a mouth guard because he tends to get cotton-mouth, was hit by Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake after releasing the ball, and the force caused him to bite his tongue. “I bit my tongue and it was numb for a minute, but it didn’t have any effect on me as far as game play. I wanted to make sure my tongue was still intact,” Newton said. “I had to feel around for it for a minute and I felt it so I was good.”
  • Tannehill completed 28 of 42 passes for 310 yards – the first time the Panthers allowed a 300-yard passer since Seattle’s Russell Wilson threw for 320 in Week 1.
  • A third of Tannehill’s yardage came on two completions to Wallace, the $60 million free agent acquisition who had not been the deep threat Miami envisioned through the first 10 games. But Wallace found his way against Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, beating his twice for receptions of 53 and 57 yards.
  • The 53-yarder was the first touchdown allowed by the Panthers in the first quarter in 15 games, dating to a loss at Kansas City last December.
  • The game was the third fourth-quarter comeback win in a row for the Panthers, who now will get ready to play a revitalized Tampa Bay squad Sunday in Charlotte.
  • Week 14 game at New Orleans has been moved to an 8:30 p.m. start on Dec. 8 at the Superdome. The game was originally scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m.
  • The Panthers (8-3) remain a game behind the Saints (9-2) in the NFC South by virtue of their win at Miami on Sunday. The Saints beat Atlanta on Thursday night. Carolina and New Orleans will play twice in a 15-day span in December, in games that likely will determine the division winner.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera on Cam Newton:  “He’s been playing with a lot of confidence the last six, seven, eight weeks. I know this much, it gives everybody else confidence. I think that’s the biggest thing, not just for him, but for us as a team.”

Rivera on Miami:  “They’re a much better football team than we gave them credit for. I kind of felt like a couple of times that we were going through the motions like they’re supposed to lay down. This is the NFL and at any point in time anybody can beat anybody. It doesn’t matter what the record is. This was not an easy victory. This was a hard victory. This victory tested us.”

Rivera on the play of Newton following the big hit where he came up spitting blood:  “It took him a little bit to get refocused. Sometimes that does that, it spooks the quarterback a little bit. And I think our offensive line was spooked a little bit too. And they got a little concerned after that and they didn’t play well.”

Wide receiver Steve Smith said he thought the Panthers were lazy before halftime.  “We underestimated that team, They’re a good team, they’ve got a good defense. We had to improve and improve quickly, because it was getting ugly.”

Wideout Smith, as usual, had something more to say:  “We would’ve been getting dog-cussed and (there’d be) talk about how bad we are and we’re pretenders. I think we’ll still hear a little bit of flak from people and fans, naysayers – ‘This team’s not for real. We’ll see next week.’ Because obviously this week has passed and we survived.”

Smith, on the Panthers, a team that lost seven times by seven points of fewer last season: “Unfortunately, we had experience with two-minute drives a lot last year in our losses, so we’ve had a lot of practice. As they say, practice makes perfect.”

Carolina Panthers wideout Steve Smith makes a reception on 4th down late in the game as Miami Dolphins defenders Brent Grimes (21) and Chris Clemons (30) try to take him down.
Carolina Panthers wideout Steve Smith makes a reception on 4th down late in the game as Miami Dolphins defenders Brent Grimes (21) and Chris Clemons (30) try to take him down.

Smith on what he told Cam Newton regarding passes over the middle: “I always tell Cam, hit me in the chest and I’ll deal with the consequences.(Clemons) eyed me, so I knew he was coming. The hardest job is catching the ball. I’m going to get hit.”

Wideout and punt returner Ted Ginn, Jr. on the difference between the Panthers play in each half:  “We all came out, we’re looking at (the Dolphins) and it ain’t no real hoorah. We went out and played to their level. We came in and our leaders stepped up and talked. Coach came in and spoke. We went out and tried to play a complete half, and that’s what we did.”

Panthers defensive tackle Dwan Edwards on the difference between this year’s team and last year’s:  “Last year’s team would have found a way to lose this game. This year’s team found a way to win it.”

Panthers center Ryan Kalil, he of the infamous Super Bowl guarantee ad that ran LAST season:  “This team does an incredible job of keeping its composure. In past years, we’ve been all over the place.”

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Carolina Panthers win thrilling, controversial game, 24-20

CHARLOTTE – The Monday Night Football stage was not too large for the Carolina Panthers who won a thrilling – and controversial – game against the New England Patriots 24-20. In the Panthers biggest game since a 2008 playoff loss, 74,000 fans, most of whom wore black to match the Panthers uniforms, rocked Bank of America Stadium from before kickoff until the final play.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton celebrates throwing the winning touchdown pass in Monday night's game against New England
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton celebrates throwing the winning touchdown pass in Monday night’s game against New England. Photo: Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer

Panthers (7-3) quarterback Cam Newton drove the team 83 yards on 13 plays for the go-ahead touchdown, yet the Pats (7-3) still had a chance to win the game. Patriots (7-3) quarterback Tom Brady led his team to the Carolina 18 with 3 seconds left and threw a pass into the end zone as time expired. His target, tight end Rob Gronkowski was in the back of the end zone with Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly draped all over him. The pass fell short and was intercepted by rookie safety Robert Lester, however, an official at the back of the end zone threw a flag for pass interference.

Moving quickly, the officials gathered and waved off the flag, ruling Gronkowski could not have caught an underthrown ball.

Ever since that call, all the talk shows have been commenting about this. Had the call been upheld, the Patriots would have had the ball at the Panthers one-yard line and would have had another shot at a game-winning touchdown with no time on the clock.

If you haven’t seen the play, watch it here.

The call culminated a gutsy effort by the Panthers, who have now won six in a row, matching a six-game streak in 2005 for the second-longest in franchise history. The 1996 team won seven-in-a-row.

Newton completed 19 of 28 for 209 yards and three touchdowns, with a passer rating of 125.4. He also was the game’s leading rusher with 62 yards on seven carries.

Carolina scored on drives of 90, 57, 81 and 83 yards, and Cam Newton was every bit the match of Tom Brady on Monday night in Charlotte.

Newton’s 14-yard scramble had a Ray Rice (Baltimore Ravens running back) feel to it. It was borderline unbelievable, certainly the play of the game. During the pre-game portion of ESPN’s telecast, analyst Jon Gruden said Newton would make a play that would show you his athleticism. I had to smile as the play began to unfold. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Newton covered 75.8 yards and dodged six defenders. The best move, when he had two defenders in front of him, coming at him, was a step-back-Jack backward jump that helped free him. He also was helped by a first-class block up field by fullback Mike Tolbert.

Carolina Panthers wideout Steve Smith (89) catches a pass from Cam Newton as New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib applies pressure. Photo: Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer
Carolina Panthers wideout Steve Smith (89) catches a pass from Cam Newton as New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib applies pressure. Photo: Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer

He led the Panthers on a 90-yard, nine-play drive to begin the scoring, with wideout Steve Smith making a huge 42-yard catch – a season-long – beating Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib, and starting a long night for the former Tampa Bay corner. Smith and Talib got into two skirmishes on the drive, with Talib getting flagged for 15 yards on one.

Leading 7-0 after the first quarter, the Panthers have now gone 14 consecutive games without allowing a first-quarter touchdown.

Carolina Panthers wideout Ted Ginn, Jr. (19) breaks free of New England Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington (25) to score the winning touchdown. Photo: Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer
Carolina Panthers wideout Ted Ginn, Jr. (19) breaks free of New England Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington (25) to score the winning touchdown. Photo: Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer

The win keeps the Panthers just one game back of New Orleans (8-2) in the NFC South, and still, if the playoffs began today, the Cats would be the 5 seed. The Panthers and Saints will meet two times in a three-week period in December, which should solidify things.

The Panthers face a short week, and a two-hour flight to South Florida for Sunday’s game at feisty Miami, before returning to Charlotte to face Tampa Bay.

                                                                               WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:                        

Referee Clete Blakeman, speaking to pool reporters after the game, said he believes the crew got the call right. Blakeman’s statement, in part, was this: “It was determined at that point in time that when the primary contact occurred on the tight end that the ball, in essence, was coming in underthrown and in essence it was immediate at that point intercepted at the front end of the end zone. So there was a determination that, in essence, uncatchability that the ball was intercepted at or about the same time the primary contact against the receiver occurred.”

In the 2013 NFL Digest of Rules, under Article 2 of pass-interference penalties, one of the acts that defines interference is: “a) Contact by a player who is not playing the ball that restricts the opponent’s opportunity to make the catch.” In many analysts’ opinions, Kuechly made contact with Gronkowski while not playing the ball, and it restricted Gronkowski’s opportunity to make the catch. In my opinion, yes, that happened, but since the ball was intercepted, to me, the point is moot.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton: Realistically, we’re just 7-3. We’re not No. 1, and that’s the ultimate goal. … We can’t just be satisfied with the performance. It’s not time for us to pat ourselves on the back.”

Newton on not only a huge win for this season, but a huge win for the franchise. It was symbolically important: “It was pretty cool.”

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera: “It was a gutsy effort. It wasn’t our best defensive effort. But it most certainly was one of our best offensive efforts.”

“It feels very good to win football games like we did this week and last week.”

Carolina Panthers win 5th straight – What they’re saying

For those of you who enjoy physical, defensive football, your new favorite team is the Carolina Panthers. Going into Sunday’s game in San Francisco (6-3), facing a formidable challenge, the Panthers (6-3) defense was suffocating. They held the 49ers to 9 points and gave up just four yards in the fourth quarter. Oh, and the Carolina offense was good enough to score just enough points, as Graham Gano made up for his first missed try of the season by nailing a 53-yard field goal with 10:05 remaining in the game, to help the Panthers win 10-9.

The game was a throwback, which was perfect, considering this is the last season the Niners will play in Candlestick Park before moving to their new luxury stadium in Santa Clara. The old-timers would have loved this knock-down, drag-out fight…and that’s what it was. The Niners could do very little on offense. They managed three field goals before the Panthers could get on the board just before the end of the first half.

Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams (34) scored the game's only touchdown at San Francisco.
Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams (34) scored the game’s only touchdown at San Francisco.

Trailing 9-0 late in the second quarter, Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams scored the game’s only touchdown on a vintage cutback run, bouncing off one tackler for a 27-yard touchdown. In a game where yards and points were at a premium, Williams not only scored the lone touchdown of the game, but that play was the only one that went over 20 yards from the line of scrimmage for either team.

The game represents the biggest win in head coach Ron Rivera’s three years. Earlier this season, the coach was concerned about the Panthers being relevant…now, he wants them to stay relevant.

The Panthers offense was sloppy in the first half of the game, losing two turnovers and dropping an interception, but it was the defense that starred on Sunday. Facing a very potent 49ers quarterback (Colin Kaepernick) and one of the league’s top running backs (Frank Gore), the defense did not allow a touchdown to be scored, forcing the Niners to settle for three field goals.

Carolina Panthers punt returner/wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. looks to gain more yardage on this punt from would-be tackler Andy Lee (4)
Carolina Panthers punt returner/wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. returned to play against his former team on Sunday. On this punt, he looks to gain more yardage on this punt from would-be tackler Andy Lee (4)

Ted Ginn, Jr., whom the Panthers picked up from the 49ers this season, wanted to make his presence known. He did that. Ginn caught two passes for 19 yards, and returned three punts for 65 yards. His statement catch was a third down conversion in the fourth quarter – an 11-yard pass from Cam Newton at the San Francisco 49 for a first down. He dragged his back foot while his motion sent him slowly out of bounds. He stood there at the San Francisco sideline, staring at 49ers safety Bubba Ventrone.

His punt returns included a second-quarter return of 19 yards to the Carolina 43, but the drive stalled. In the fourth quarter, his 25-yard return went to the San Francisco 44. Seven plays later, Carolina had its first lead of the game, on a 53-yard field goal by Gano.

Defensively, the key was to stop the 49ers on third down and not let them extend drives. Job well done, Panthers. They held the Niners, who entered the game with a conversion percentage of 40.2, to 15.4 percent on third downs. Not allowing Kaepernick to use his legs to extend plays certainly was a key. The six sacks by the Panthers defense (second-most in a game this season) had to affect Kaepernick’s decision-making. The sensational quarterback was less than that Sunday, as the Panthers held him to just 91 yards passing and grabbed a timely interception to ice the game.

Feel good about this one, Panthers, but know you have another tough game coming up Monday night. In prime-time, under the lights…New England (7-2 and coming off a bye) visits Bank of America Stadium in a game that has been sold out for weeks. The Panthers look to avenge some bad losses to the Pats, including a 38-6 loss in 2001 that ended a 1-15 season and, of course, the 32-29 loss in the 2003 Super Bowl.

(All photos courtesy Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer)

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:

Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson, who had 1.5 of the unit’s six sacks on Colin Kaepernick: “Everybody was on the same page. When everybody is on the same page, buying into the scheme, you’re going to end up being successful. It’s all about being a team and playing as one. We’ve always got each others’ backs, so I’m always trying to pick them up on that side of the ball when things don’t go right, and that’s what they do for me when I need it. That’s a good thing, because if we’re not looking out for each other, no one is.”

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera on how he has changed his coaching style:“My first two years I did everything by The Book. Punt the ball, kick field goals, stuff like that — bypassing opportunities to go for it on fourth down. I looked at certain situations, certain circumstances, and the one that got me was Buffalo. One of the things we could’ve done is go for it on fourth down, and we didn’t. I’ve thought about that ever since, and part of my maturing as a coach is understanding certain situations and circumstances and going with it.”

“One of the biggest things I know (defensive coordinator) Sean (McDermott) and them emphasized was getting them in third-and-long or as long as possible and putting a lot of pressure on them. We felt pretty good about the pass rush. It worked to what we wanted to do. I understand Vernon Davis went out and that was one of those things that helped us in that situation. You lose a weapon, especially of his caliber, it’s tough.”

“This was big. We’re going to enjoy it. It’s going to make the flight home a lot easier. We look forward to getting back to work next week.”

Carolina Panthers cornerback Drayton Florence (29) intercepted this Colin Kaepernick pass late in the fourth quarter to ice the victory for the visitors.
Carolina Panthers cornerback Drayton Florence (29) intercepted this Colin Kaepernick pass late in the fourth quarter to ice the victory for the visitors.

Panthers cornerback Drayton Florence, who sealed the outcome with an interception at the San Francisco 42 with 23 seconds left to play: “We know that now we’re going to get everybody’s best. When you win [five] in a row, that opens people’s eyes. They see the film. They see how we play. We have the second-ranked rush defense and scoring defense. That’s big. We’re not under the radar anymore.”

“Defending NFC champions, 5 1/2 hour flight, one of the best running backs (in Frank Gore), the best running quarterback in the league, one of the best defenses in the league, and we come in, 10-9 ballgame, a slugfest. We’ve just got to keep preparing every week. We’re going to get everybody’s best shot from here on out.”

Panthers free safety Mike Mitchell: “We heard all the naysayers say we hadn’t played anybody and blah, blah, blah. Well, we played somebody today on the road in their place, and beat them. So they shouldn’t have too much to say. We’re relevant. We’re here.”

“We had a great game plan, and really we just played Panther defense. We had a good idea what they were going to be about and we just took those things away. Our coaches did a great job preparing us. We were locked in on everything they were doing.”

Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano hit this 53-yard field goal during the fourth quarter that led to a 10-9 Panthers win.
Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano hit this 53-yard field goal during the fourth quarter that led to a 10-9 Panthers win.

Panthers kicker Graham Gano, who kicked a few extra balls following his first miss of the season: “I was so angry up until the ball left my foot on the 53-yarder. I always want another opportunity after a miss.”

Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams on how tough the game was: “We knew it was going to be one of those dogfights because they had a really good defense. I knew we had a really good defense. Coming into this game, we said the first team to get to 14 was going to win. Fortunately for us, it only took 10.”

Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith: “I can say with confidence, if you’re a fan of football, you look at Candlestick, you look at the history, very few games that are relevant and mean something, you never come out with a blow out.”

San Francisco head coach John Harbaugh: “Moving the ball wasn’t coming easy for us. I thought there were plays to be made, and (Kaepernick) made some really good ones. And we put all put our fingerprints on that. It’s not a good feeling when you don’t prevail, especially when you had multiple chances to get it done.”

Carolina Panthers safety Mike Mitchell (21) and defensive end Charles Johnson (95) combine to make this sack on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. This was one of six sacks recorded by the Panthers defense.
Carolina Panthers safety Mike Mitchell (21) and defensive end Charles Johnson (95) combine to make this sack on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. This was one of six sacks recorded by the Panthers defense.

San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick: “They didn’t surprise us at all. We didn’t execute.”

Carolina Panthers beat Falcons – What they’re saying

CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers (5-3) did not play their best game of the season, but, as the old saying goes, “Good teams find ways to win games when they play poorly”. The Panthers did exactly that. They found a way to dominate the Atlanta Falcons (2-6), winning 34-10 at Bank of America Stadium.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton did not have a great game, but his team won 34-10 over Atlanta

Quarterback Cam Newton was 23-of-37 for 249 yards and did have one touchdown pass, but he also threw two interceptions and was very consistent in his passing…mostly high or overthrown…but the Panthers still found a way to win. The defense put enough pressure on Atlanta’s front four to force Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan into throwing 3 interceptions, including one pick-six by Drayton Florence.

Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart
Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart returned to action after missing nearly a year due to injuries. He ran for a team-high 43 yards Sunday.

Jonathan Stewart returned to the Panthers backfield for the first time since last November and led the home team with 43 yards. His backfield partner, DeAngelo Williams was just a yard shy of that total.

When he found his receivers, Newton picked up chunks of yardage. Brandon LaFell led the receiving corps with 6 receptions for 74 yards. Tight end Greg Olsen caught 4 passes for 66 yards and scored the game’s first touchdown. That reception was Carolina coach Ron Rivera’s first of two fourth-and-one calls of the game and he was rewarded by having Newton find Olsen wide open on a play-action call for a 14 yard touchdown to open the scoring.

Coach Rivera’s second opportunity, in the last two minutes of the game, was an easier call. He let Graham Gano come on for an easy 20-yard field goal to ice the game.

Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis with an interception
Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis made the first of three interceptions yesterday for the home team.

As the league is coming to understand, the Panthers defense is a force to be reckoned with. When you pick off a good quarterback like Matt Ryan three times in a game (linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly and cornerback Drayton Florence) including Florence’s 38-yard pick six (on a nice shoe top grab), obviously your front four is putting pressure on the quarterback. And that’s how this team has been built. Big boys up front, agile linebackers and adequate safeties and cornerbacks. Pressure up front has been a trademark of this year’s team.

Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez is tackled by Carolina Panthers safety Quintin Mikell (27) and safety Mike Mitchell (21)
Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez is tackled by Carolina Panthers safety Quintin Mikell (27) and safety Mike Mitchell (21) in Sunday’s 34-10 Panthers win.

Atlanta’s future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez was a real force in the first half, catching 5 Matt Ryan passes for 77 yards. It seemed like every time Ryan went back to pass, Gonzalez was open. The Panthers defense addressed that situation at halftime, jamming him at the line and holding him to just one reception for four yards in the second half. Clearly, without Gonzalez as a target, Ryan and Atlanta’s offense was limited.

The Panthers travel to San Francisco next Sunday for a 4:05 p.m. Eastern start against the very dangerous 49ers, playing in Candlestick Park for one last season before moving to their new stadium in Santa Clara, CA.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:

Panthers offensive tackle Jordan Gross: “We’ve done enough to get ourselves back on track. But we’ve got some tough games coming up. Winning this game, I said we’ll feel like we’re a pretty good team. But the rest of our schedule really just gets harder and we’ll see what we’re made of.”

“I thought Cam, even though his stats maybe aren’t as good as the last couple weeks, I was as proud of him today as I’ve been any game,” Gross said. “It wasn’t real pretty. He was getting banged around in the pocket. The run game was kind of slow starting and there wasn’t just long play after long play. We kind of had to hang in there and take our punches.

“He just kept his composure and was never rushed or stressed out or seeming to feel the pressure, and by the end of the day we were all smiling.”

Panthers strong safety Quinten Mikell on Gonzalez: “Tony is hard to stop. That’s why he’s a Hall of Famer. But we just turned it up a little bit the second half and played our technique a little bit better. We were aware where he was at all times. Obviously, we know that Matt Ryan, that’s his go-to guy, especially in crucial situations.”

Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart on returning to action after a year’s layoff due to injuries: “I’m pretty sure if you’re not nervous your first carry, you’re kind of not human. I definitely had some nerves today and got worked out.”

Panthers tight end Greg Olsen: “To beat a team by that margin and not play your ‘A game,’ that’s the sign of a good team.”

Atlanta head coach Mike Smith: “We’re all held responsible and we’re all accountable for the 2-6 record.”

Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez: “I love going up against guys like that (Luke Kuechly) because they bring out the best in me and hopefully I can bring out the best in them.”