Tag Archives: Tony Gonzalez

Carolina Panthers Win NFC South; Clinch No. 2 Seed (at least)

ATLANTA – The Carolina Panthers proved it’s not how you start (1-3) but rather how you finish (11-1). The Panthers (12-4) fell behind the Atlanta Falcons 10-0 early in Sunday’s game, but ended up winning 21-20. The win gave the Panthers the NFC South Division championship, earned them a bye in the playoffs, and at least the NFC number two seed. Should Seattle lose and San Francisco win, the Cats would be the top seed in the NFC.

But let’s not worry about that. Just savor the NFC South title for two weeks…at least! This team now joins the 1996, 2003 and 2008 teams as division winners and earned the Panthers at least one home playoff game. Panthers quarterback said this team had been “0-for since he got here” on Fox TV after the game. But today, he can call himself champ!

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton scampers past the Falcons on one of his runs Sunday. (PHOTO: Charlotte Observer)
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton scampers past the Falcons on one of his runs Sunday. (PHOTO: Charlotte Observer)

The defense made life miserable for Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, as the Panthers recorded a team-record nine sacks of Ryan, including four by Greg Hardy alone.

Hardy broke Charles Johnson’s single-game record of 3.5 sacks, set here last season, and tied Kevin Greene (15 in 1996) for the most prolific sack season in team history.

The Panthers finished with 60 sacks on the year, which tied the ’96 team for most in a season.

One thing Atlanta did that no other team accomplished against the Panthers this season was to score a touchdown on its opening drive. It was an 11-play, 80-yard drive capped by a 9 yard touchdown pass from Ryan to Matt Snelling. The Falcons added a 42-yard field goal by Matt Bryant to go ahead by 10 with 10 minutes remaining in the half. Then the Panthers got going.

White’s pick-six was followed by a 13-play 96-yard drive culminating with Newton throwing a 3-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn with just 19 seconds remaining in the half.

Atlanta responded with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to Roddy White with 9:50 remaining in the third quarter to take a 17-14 lead. But Newton was not done. He led the Panthers on a 10-play 76-yard drive that ended with a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen, putting the Cats back on top, 21-17.

In the fourth quarter, Atlanta added a 37-yard field goal by Bryant to get within a point of the Panthers at 21-20, but could do no more. On their final drive of the day, the Falcons were trying to get close enough to kick a potential game-winning field goal, and were driving down the field when disaster hit. A bad snap from center to quarterback led to a big loss and with the clock running down, Ryan tried to spike the ball, but the offense was called for illegal procedure, and, with a mandatory ten-second runoff on the clock that effectively ended their chances.

Offensively, Newton, playing on an ankle he twisted last week against New Orleans, was the game’s leading rusher with 12 carries for 72 yards and also threw for a pair of scores. He ended up 15-of-27 passing for 149 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (off a tip).

Olsen caught 6 passes for 42 yards and one touchdowns. Newton’s favorite receiver, Steve Smith, was not available for the game due to PCL (knee) injury. The bye next week gives him a good chance to recover and possibly play in the playoff game in Charlotte.

Trailing 10-0, perhaps the game’s biggest play was made by an unknown. Rookie cornerback Melvin White intercepted Matt Ryan and ran the ball into the end zone for a pick-six, bringing the Panthers back into the game.  The interception was officially recorded as an 8-yard touchdown, but it completely changed the momentum of the game. The Panthers went on to score another touchdown to lead 14-10 at the half.

Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez was the Falcon's only representative at the coin toss. It was the future Hall of Famer's last game in the league. (PHOTO: atlantafalcons.com)
Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez was the Falcon’s only representative at the coin toss. It was the future Hall of Famer’s last game in the league. (PHOTO: atlantafalcons.com)

Atlanta’s future Hall of Fame tight end, Tony Gonzalez, was honored before the game, as he was the lone player to represent the Falcons at the coin toss. He also was honored at halftime by team owner, Arthur Blank. The fans gave Gonzalez tremendous applause during the game. And, incidentally, Gonzales caught Ryan’s first and last pass of the game.

After gaining the bye into the playoffs, the Panthers will host a yet-to-be-named opponent in two weeks at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. It’ll be fun! Surprises always are…and if any of you thought this team, either as the season began, or as they started 1-3, would be hosting a playoff game…let me know. Personally, I had them down for 10 wins this season…but then again, I had them down for 9 last year and was way off. Much happier to be one short this season!

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.”