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Around the NFC South: Crazy Sunday benefits Panthers

Posted Oct 16, 2017

Stunning setback for Falcons opens the door for Panthers to maintain first place in the division.

An insane Sunday around the NFC South allowed the Panthers (4-2) to maintain the top spot in the division despite their loss to the Eagles on Thursday Night Football.

All three division games Sunday featured epic comebacks, with one division foe (Atlanta) losing after taking a big lead; one almost losing after taking a big lead (New Orleans); and one falling short after nearly wiping out a big lead (Tampa Bay).

The Panthers-Saints game in Week 3 still stands as the lone NFC South matchup to date, and that won't change this week with all four teams on the road for out-of-division clashes, including Carolina's trip to Chicago.

FALCONS: Hard to explain how Atlanta let go of a 17-0 halftime lead at home against a Dolphins team that entered the second half with just one offensive touchdown in the previous 15 quarters, but Miami's 20-17 victory allowed the Panthers to remain in first place.

The Dolphins struck for a pair of third-quarter touchdowns, then took the lead with a pair of fourth-quarter field goals. It looked for all the world that the Falcons would force overtime at the least when they advanced with a first down to the Miami 26-yard line with 47 seconds left. The next play proved the last gasp, however, when Matt Ryan threw an interception. That's his sixth this season after throwing seven all of last season.

Next up for the Falcons (3-2) is a rematch of their more discussed late-game collapse, when they visit a Patriots team that overcame a 25-point deficit against Atlanta in Super Bowl LI.

SAINTS: New Orleans has arguably been the most impressive team in the division over the last month after downing the Lions 52-38 in another wild one for a third consecutive victory. The Saints (3-2), amazingly, are over .500 for the first time since 2013.

The Saints defense was statistically the league's worst following an 0-2 start but then handled the Panthers and shut out the Dolphins before scoring three touchdowns against the Lions. The Saints rolled to a 45-10 lead before the Lions threatened to pull off the greatest comeback in NFL history, riding a special teams and defensive touchdown to pull within 45-38. They got the ball back against their own goal line with a chance to pull even, but a Cameron Jordan interception in the end zone put this one to bed.

New Orleans next visits a Green Bay team that will be trying to adjust to life without Aaron Rodgers.

BUCCANEERS: Adrian Peterson, a Saint just five days earlier, and Larry Fitzgerald ran roughshod over Tampa Bay to build a 31-0 lead for the Cardinals, but the Buccaneers somehow made a game of it before sliding to 2-3.

With Ryan Fitzpatrick in at quarterback for an injured Jameis Winston (whose shoulder injury doesn't seem serious), the Buccaneers battled back to within 31-20, but a Fitzpatrick interception at Tampa's own 1-yard line allowed Arizona to stretch the lead back out in a 38-33 victory.

Under .500 for the first time, the Buccaneers next visit a Buffalo team that nearly won at Carolina and did win at Atlanta earlier in the season.