Panthers "stood for each other" in streak-breaking win

Panthers team

ATLANTA — The Panthers weren't in a spot where one player would be able to singlehandedly fix things.

It was going to take all of them.

So to beat the Falcons, it took a defense picking up for an offense after an early turnover, and an offense responding in kind with the kind of long drives you need to catch your breath so you can play fast.

"We have to play like this every week," linebacker Shaq Thompson said. "It can't be one side or the other; we have to pick each other up and really support each other. What you guys probably didn't notice, when the offense was on the field, the defense was up. When the defense was on the field, the offense was up. That was big. That's what we want to build this culture around.

"We took that mindset; we've got to be more of a family. And that's what it was. We went out there and stood for each other."

That started early, after running back Chuba Hubbard fumbled on the first snap of the game. The defense followed by holding the Falcons to a short field goal.

That may have set the tone for the entire day, with the entire team taking turns picking each other up.

A defense that had grown weary in some recent games after being left on the field too long (4-of-27 third-down conversions by the offense the last two weeks meant long workdays for the defense) was able to catch its breath because the Panthers converted 10-of-17 Sunday.

That enabled them to run the ball 47 times for 203 yards, and control the clock for a nearly 11-minute time of possession edge (35:23-24:37).

And a fresher defense held the Falcons to 131 passing yards, Matt Ryan's fewest in 27 career starts against the Panthers.

"We were challenged, not just by the outside, but by our peers," veteran left tackle Cameron Erving said. "We were challenged, and we just tried to come out and respond. Play one play at a time and do what we can do, do what we know we can do, and I feel like we answered the call this week.

"But it was one game. It was a good team win, complementary football. These are the types of games we try to gain momentum. You saw what we can do on the ground, and we try to build on that."

It took backup quarterback P.J. Walker averting a crisis and Hubbard running it into the end zone in the fourth quarter, after starter Sam Darnold played his best game in weeks.

Darnold left the game with a concussion (which came at the end of one of his eight runs for 66 yards), and the Panthers weren't going to let his work go to waste.

"The biggest thing was we played as a team today," Hubbard said. "We played for each other. I feel like we do that every week, but we took it to another level today.

"The biggest thing we talked about this week was having each other's backs. Sam was balling all game. He took a shot, put his body on the line, and it was our job to respond. And we did that."

There were a dozen other small instances of guys doing the little things, as well as the big ones. Thompson and Stephon Gilmore had interceptions, Gilmore getting one in his first game with his new team.

It was players bowing up to the Falcons after Robby Anderson took a hard shot, with safety Sam Franklin Jr. leading the charge. And even though that pass was the only time Anderson was targeted all day, he was the guy to recover the late onside kick to seal the game — the same guy who has struggled with drops of late making the play on the hands team.

Thompson also became a hype man for kicker Zane Gonzalez as they passed each other on their way in and out of the interview room, the team's longest-tenured defensive player shouting out a kicker who rolled in after the start of the regular season.

"How about 4-for-4 and a 57," Thompson said to of his new teammate's perfect day and career-long field goal, the old one picking up the new one. Gonzalez just grinned at the reception, saying he was happy to do his part.

They all did.

As excited as they were after breaking a four-game losing streak, they're also aware that at 4-4, there was still more work to be done. Head coach Matt Rhule mentioned that there were still far too many defensive penalties extending drives (the Panthers committed eight total penalties to the Falcons' three).

But after the way they lost the last four, and Darnold being pulled last week in New York, it was also precisely what they needed.

View photos from Atlanta as the Panthers take on the Falcons in Week 8.

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