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Week 14 Game Recap: Carolina Panthers 20, Atlanta Falcons 40

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Carolina Panthers

There was a lot to admire in Kyle Allen’s performance – toughness, aggression downfield and a never-say-die attitude – but a lot to criticise as well. After a solid start, Allen began to miss easy throws as the Atlanta pass rush bossed things up front against an undermanned and inexperienced Carolina offensive line. Allen continued to miss downfield opportunities, with the connection on deep passes to Curtis Samuel a major bugaboo on a weekly basis. A downfield pass to Samuel – a certain touchdown had the pass been accurate – was thrown a few yards out in front. The running game was non-existent as the Falcons effectively shut it down early, with the Panthers having to go pass-heavy in the second half due to the deficit. The receiving corps played well, and D.J. Moore could have gotten into the end zone if it wasn’t for a defensive pass interference penalty inside the Atlanta five-yard line. Curtis Samuel was utilised as much as a runner as a receiver, with new offensive coordinator Scott Turner experimenting with his dynamic player. Ian Thomas performed decently in relief of Greg Olsen, adding some after-the-catch muscle that the veteran tight end cannot. Defensively, things continued to fall apart, putting the offense in pass-first mode for the entire second half.

Atlanta Falcons

With guard Chris Lindstrom earning his first start of his career, Atlanta rolled with two rookies on the right side of the line this week and Devonta Freeman and Brian Hill earned a four productive runs off the right side during the first two series of the game and this improved performance continued throughout the game. Julio Jones wasn’t targeted until late in the second quarter, but that throw resulted in a 39-yard completion of a go route to the red zone and set up a short scored to Calvin Ridley when Carolina suffered a coverage lapse. Ryan found Calvin Ridley on a pair of targets late in the half, which helped get Atlanta near the red zone and cap the drive with a 35-yard field goal to take the lead. Vic Beasley strip-sacked Kyle Allen during the first drive of the second half and Tyler Davison recovered at midfield. Two Matt Ryan passes to Julio Jones set up a Freeman touchdown run from the I-formation for 13 yards—his first rushing touchdown since 2017. Ridley collapsed after leaving the blue tent for an examination and was carted off the field on his back late in the third quarter with an abdominal injury. Rookie UDFA Olamide Zaccheaus replaced Ridley, making his first catch on a post route. He broke a tackle and scored on a 93-yard play. Atlanta then forced a fumble on the subsequent kickoff and the kicker, Yunghoe Koo, recovered the ball in the red zone, leading to another field goal and a 20-point lead, which Atlanta never relinquished. Atlanta’s defense also sacked Kyle Allen five times—including two strip sacks Vic Beasley—and Damontae Kazee intercepted Allen twice.

Carolina Panthers

QB Kyle Allen, 71 offensive snaps, Pass: 28 - 41 - 293 - 1 TD / 2 INT, Rush: 6 - 24 - 1
It proved to be an eventful day for Kyle Allen, who mixed good plays with bad plays in near equal measure. The early stages saw Allen taking what Atlanta’s defense was giving him as he made mature decisions to move the chains. The offense stalled, however, and the pressure began to affect his throws, with a deep out to Ian Thomas standing out. Allen appeared to use too much arm on the play and, with a collapsing pocket, did not drive into it with his whole body, resulting in an inaccurate pass. Allen continued to force things at times, with a slant pass to D.J. Moore nearly intercepted amid a sea of Atlanta players. Soon his poor decisions were punished, though not because of anything he did. A beautiful sideline pass dropped into a bucket to Thomas looked to be completed, but the tight end lost control of the ball, allowing it to pop up into the air and into the grateful arms of an Atlanta defender. Allen continued to fire downfield, completing another beautiful deep pass to Moore; this time, he made no mistake, unless his teammate Thomas, and corralled it. Allen put together an excellent drive to end the first half, capping it with an easy touchdown pass to Thomas on the goal line. Things turned in the second half, however, with the offensive line buckling under the Atlanta pass rush heat. Allen was strip-sacked after his rookie left tackle Dennis Daley was beaten immediately off the snap. The young passer did not see the defender coming and lost the football. Allen retained an aggressive mindset with downfield shots but was unable to hit Curtis Samuel on a wide-open pass down the right sideline, the ball landing agonisingly a couple of yards in front of him. The game script continued to get away from the Panthers and Allen, and he took a couple of needless sacks as he became flustered in the pocket. Eventually the dam broke and he tossed a second interception after rolling right and heaving the ball deep on a third-and-long play. With the game out of hand, he kept firing and had a touchdown pass to Jarius Wright taken off the board due to a holding penalty. With time expiring, Allen led another drive down to the goal line and finished it off himself with a quarterback sneak.

RB Christian McCaffrey, 70 offensive snaps, Rush: 11 - 53 - 0, Rec: 11 - 82 - 0 (12 targets)
With the Panthers fighting back from a deficit for the entire second half, Christian McCaffrey’s involvement was limited mostly to a receiving option. He performed admirably, consistently making tacklers miss – or running through them – on check down receptions. Atlanta had an excellent game plan to keep McCaffrey in check, however, and their defenders were always buzzing around Carolina’s key man when he caught short passes. McCaffrey almost busted his way into the end zone in the first half, but his barnstorming run was stopped just shy of the goal line. In the second half he continued to be utilised mostly as a receiver, providing a release valve for an under-pressure Kyle Allen. McCaffrey got a goal line carry at the end of the game as the clock was running down, but as before he was stopped shy of the goal line and denied a touchdown.

RB Reggie Bonnafon, 2 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 6 - 0
Reggie Bonnafon made a brief appearance early in the game on a dual backfield look, getting the ball on an inside carry with Christian McCaffrey being used as window dressing off to the quarterback’s left.

WR Curtis Samuel, 65 offensive snaps, Rush: 3 - 17 - 0, Rec: 2 - 25 - 0 (4 targets)
There was a concerted effort by interim offensive coordinator Scott Turner to get the ball into Curtis Samuel’s hands. On several occasions Samuel got the football on jet sweeps, as well as a half-back pitch off left tackle and an inside give from the shotgun on third-and-five. The latter play was stuffed immediately. Samuel showed great burst and quickness on end arounds, with a 10-yard carry seemingly an automatic outcome. As a receiver he was unfortunate not to corral an early touchdown pass from Kyle Allen, losing his footing at the crucial moment. Had he caught the pass it would have been a walk into the end zone. The second missed opportunity came on a deep ball from Allen down the right sideline in the second half, with the ball teasingly out in front of Samuel by a couple of yards. Samuel had done an excellent job on the route of stacking the defensive back, but the throw simply wasn’t accurate enough.

WR D.J. Moore, 70 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 0 - 0, Rec: 4 - 81 - 0 (6 targets)
D.J. Moore played at his typically high standard this season, linking up effectively with Kyle Allen on timing routes and proving a reliable target. An early target saw a pass drop at Moore’s feet as he was blanketed by two Atlanta defenders; it appeared the two players were not on the same page with the route. As the game wore on Moore asserted himself more, catching a beautiful over-the-shoulder pass from Allen for a 39-yard gain down the left sideline. His ball tracking on the play was excellent and Allen’s pass gave him a great opportunity to make the play. Moore could have had a walk-in touchdown in the second half, but he was held by the defensive back in coverage and a defensive pass interference penalty was called, setting up Carolina inside the Atlanta five-yard line.

WR Jarius Wright, 59 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 30 - 0 (5 targets)
Jarius Wright saw a little more action than usual with Carolina in comeback mode for most of the game. After an early target from Kyle Allen that looked as if the two players were not on the same page, they connected on some timing routes in the middle of the field to offset the relentless Atlanta pass rush. Wright operated primarily as an outlet receiver for a besieged Allen all game, in fact.

TE Ian Thomas, 61 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 57 - 1 (10 targets)
Ian Thomas assumed the lead tight end role for the Panthers with Greg Olsen missing due to a concussion. The second-year pro performed well when called upon, mopping up receptions on underneath crossing patterns for the most part. Thomas looked energetic and feisty after the catch, showing off a wicked stiff arm on a catch in the left flat as he powered forward for additional yards. Thomas had a major error on a perfect sideline pass from Kyle Allen, however, allowing the ball to pop up into the air perilously after he appeared to have secured it. The bobbling ball twirled into the air and landed in the arms of an Atlanta defender. Allen continued to go to Thomas after the mistake, though, and the two linked up for the team’s lone passing touchdown of the game. Set up on the Atlanta 1-yard line, the play was a simple pitch and catch into the left flat as Jarius Wright perfectly executed the inside ‘pick’ on the two defenders.

Atlanta Falcons

QB Matt Ryan, 70 offensive snaps, Pass: 20 - 34 - 313 - 2 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 1 - 8 - 0
He connected early with Calvin Ridley on an over route for 18 yards during the first series but pressure on consecutive snaps led to Ryan throwing the ball high and over his receiver’s heads in order to get the ball over the pass rush. During the second drive, Ryan found Russell Gage on a slant for a first down. With the Falcons inside the Carolina 40, Ryan stumbled through his drop and gave Vernon Butler time to sack Ryan for an 11-yard loss. Ryan responded with an 11-yard completion to Ridley in the left flat and an angle route to Freeman for another 12 and a first down. Ryan began the third dive with a 14-yard out to Austin Hooper. Ryan found Julio Jones for 39 yards on a go route to reach the red zone later in the drive and had an open Hooper who didn’t break inside enough and the ball sailed high as a result. Two plays, later he found Ridley against a coverage break for a touchdown. Ryan overshot Jones during the next series when Jones beat James Bradberry again—this time with a double move. Late in the half, Ryan found Ridley for a pair of big plays to reach and cross midfield and then came within yards of the red zone with a pass up the middle to James Hardy and it set up a 35-yard field goal to take a three-point lead at the end of the half. Ryan delivered a pair of passes to Julio Jones to get Atlanta from midfield to the Carolina 18 early in the third quarter.

RB Devonta Freeman, 48 offensive snaps, Rush: 17 - 84 - 1, Rec: 4 - 10 - 0 (4 targets)
He earned two touches for short gains early in the first drive and then took a draw on the third touch for a 10-yard gain that he bounced to the right sideline. He followed up with a strong cutback to the left end from an I-formation run heading towards right guard. He gained four on the play. Freeman took a toss play to right end for eight yards during the second drive and then followed up with a huge run around left end to get inside the Panthers’ 20 behind two pulling linemen but Christian Blake held and wiped out a 30-yard gain. Freeman earned a first down on a third-down angle route for 12 yards to get Atlanta inside the Carolina 25. Freeman earned another 11-12 yards up the middle after making a defender miss in the crease and bouncing the run further inside and downfield where his right guard Chris Lindstrom and center Alex Mack sustained blocks downfield. Freeman bounced an I formation from inside the crease to the right flat for his first rushing touchdown of the season—his first since 2017.

RB Brian Hill, 14 offensive snaps, Rush: 9 - 62 - 1
He spelled Freeman in this game and earned a first-down on his first carry behind right guard for 5-6 yards and then bounced outside the right side for nine more on the next play. Hill plowed up the middle for seven yards to lead off a drive midway through the fourth quarter and earned a first down off the left side while Atlanta ran down the clock with a 20-point lead. He took Atlanta inside the five on a toss play to the right side to get inside the five and scored on the next play up right guard. Hill also supplied excellent pass protection multiple times in the second half.

RB Qadree Ollison, 10 offensive snaps, Rush: 4 - 6 - 0
He earned a carry for a couple of yards up the middle to begin a drive late in the third quarter. He earned two more up the middle during the next series, working into a crease where there was no second-level blocking but two linebackers waiting on him. Atlanta handed it to Ollison on the next play to left end and he worked hard to earn another two through contact.

WR Julio Jones, 58 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 66 - 0 (8 targets)
Ryan delivered a pinpoint go route with a great stack to win the ball against tight coverage to reach the 18 of Carolina on the long play. Ryan overshot Jones later in the half on good double move against James Bradberry, the player Jones beat the first time. Ross Cockrell helped double-cover Jones over the middle during the waning seconds of the half to defend a pass. Jones took a pass up the middle for a first down to begin a third-quarter drive near midfield and got Atlanta inside the Carolina 30. Jones earned 1,000 yards receiving for the season with this target. Jones earned a second pass to get Atlanta to the Carolina 18 on the next play.

WR Calvin Ridley, 38 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 76 - 1 (5 targets)
Ryan found Ridley on an over route in stride for a quick 18 on the second play of the game. Ridley earned 11 yards up the left flat on a second-and-long after Ryan took a sack during Atlanta’s second drive. Ridley got free on what looked like a coverage break-down in the red zone for a touchdown under Eric Reid who thought he’d have more help underneath. Ridley came back hard for the ball to dig out a Ryan throw under pressure with 37 seconds left and reach the sideline near midfield. Ryan found Ridley two plays later on the corner route and came back well to the ball. Ridley collapsed after leaving the blue tent for an examination and was carted off the field on his back. He'll miss the rest of the season with an abdomen injury.

WR Russell Gage, 37 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 17 - 0 (4 targets)
He got open on a third-down crossing route but pressure up the middle forced Ryan to deliver the ball over Gage’s head. Ryan found Gage for a first down on a nice slant route where he stuck the stem outside with a great head fake and got open over the middle. Gage and Ryan couldn’t connect on a tightly-covered slant on third-and-five, leading a 37-yard field goal to cap the second series. Ryan found Gage in the waning seconds of the half on a crossing route with Ryan rolling form pressure.

WR Justin Hardy, 12 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 19 - 0 (1 targets)
Ryan found Hardy during the waning seconds of the half up the middle to get Atlanta near the red zone, setting up a 35-yard field goal with 2 seconds left.

WR Olamide Zaccheaus, 22 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 93 - 1 (2 targets)
When Calvin Ridley got hurt, Zaccheaus entered the game, beat the cornerback on a post route and ran through the wrap to his ankle at midfield for a 93-yard score. Ryan delivered the ball behind Zaccheaus two drives later on a crossing route that the underneath coverage knocked away.

WR Christian Blake, 12 offensive snaps
He held the cornerback in the left flat on a 30-yard run up the left flat and nullified the play during the Falcons’ second series.

TE Austin Hooper, 47 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 32 - 0 (6 targets)
He got open on an out route to the flat but Ryan had to deliver the ball over a defensive lineman in his face and sailed the throw over Hooper on the first drive. Hooper made a nice extension on a 14-yard yard out against man coverage at the right sideline to begin the third series. Hooper earned a first down midway through the second quarter in a short release up the right flat and earned another 12-13 yards for close to 15 up the sideline. Hooper got open on a break to the inside but didn’t break it far enough to the middle and the ball wound up over his head instead of him making the catch in the end zone. Ryan led Austin Hooper too far on a third-and-seven early in the fourth quarter.