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Rapid Reactions: Panthers fall 24-10 in Atlanta

Bryce Young

ATLANTA — This happens to rookies. Even the best rookies.

Panthers quarterback Bryce Young turned it over twice, part of a three-turnover day by his team, and the Panthers dropped the opener 24-10 to the Falcons in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Young threw a pair of interceptions to Falcons safety Jessie Bates III, continuing a trend of early struggles for No. 1 overall picks. A top pick hasn't won in an opener in his rookie year since David Carr with the Texans in 2002. I mean, Peyton Manning threw three interceptions his first time out, so this isn't a unique phenomenon.

Young finished 20-of-38 passing for 146 yards, with a touchdowns and two interceptions (for a 48.8 passer rating).

The Panthers didn't draft Young for one game, though; they chose him for the long haul. And considering he threw 12 interceptions in two years as the starter at Alabama (against 79 touchdowns), they will feel reasonably confident that he'll improve.

But the margin of error on offense at the moment is small while they put all these new parts together. So they can't afford mistakes. Seventeen Falcons points came off Panthers turnovers, and the Falcons did not turn the ball over themselves. And without deep receiver DJ Chark Jr. (out with a hamstring strain), the Panthers offense was compressed.

Young was efficient at times, but the first short-field turnover gifted the Falcons an early touchdown.

Bates jumped a route intended for tight end Hayden Hurst, which was the kind of impact play the Falcons were hoping for when they gave the former Bengals safety a four-year, $64-million deal this offseason.

Three plays later, the Falcons were in the end zone, with a Desmond Ridder flip to rookie running back Bijan Robinson turning into points when Frankie Luvu, Shaq Thompson, and Vonn Bell bounced off the first-rounder.

Young was able to even the ledger in the second quarter with a methodical 12-play, 75-yard drive, capped by a touchdown pass to Hurst, and put together a solid nine-play drive for an Eddy Piñeiro to start the third quarter.

He spread the ball around reasonably well, but another pick by Bates in the third quarter, also in Panthers' territory, allowed the Falcons to tie at 10-10 with a Younghoe Koo field goal.

When Bates forced a Miles Sanders fumble in the third quarter, the Falcons put their third score on the board.

It extended a number of trends for the Panthers, as head coach Frank Reich remains winless in the first game of the year (0-5-1, though he's 40-34-1 overall), and the Panthers are now 8-21 all-time in Atlanta.

Brian Burns clearly came into this game with something to prove, and he had plenty of help.

He had 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and a tackle for loss — in the first quarter alone, as the Panthers defense played reasonably well in their first game in the 3-4 system of new coordinator Ejiro Evero.

He hasn't talked since taking a few personal days away from practice last Thursday and Monday. He practiced the rest of the week as they negotiated a contract extension (which they have yet to reach).

But his play said plenty.

The Panthers' defense held the Falcons to 74 yards and sacked Desmond Ridder four times in the first half (Burns 1.5, Luvu and Derrick Brown 1.0 each, and Shy Tuttle 0.5).

It was a solid effort overall for the defense, as they held the Falcons to 221 total yards. Atlanta managed just 13 first downs, and were held to 2-of-10 on third downs.

Jaycee Horn

— The pass rush will need to be good, as cornerback Jaycee Horn left the game in the second quarter with a hamstring strain and did not return.

He walked gingerly to the medical tent and then to the locker room just before the half.

Recent acquisition Troy Hill made a third-down stop right after Horn's departure, and CJ Henderson took his place in the lineup.

— The Panthers protected Young well, for most of the day. They didn't allow a sack until midway through the fourth quarter, with the first one coming after an Ikem Ekwonu false start penalty the snap before. He was sacked twice on the day.

— The new kickoff rules weren't a factor Sunday, as the Falcons were content to blast it deep into the end zone for touchbacks. Panthers kick returner Raheem Blackshear didn't get a return on the day.

Ihmir Smith-Marsette handled punts, and one in the fourth quarter nearly ended in disaster. He ran laterally along the goal line before he was dragged down by a horse-collar tackle. That would have helped the field position, but an offsetting penalty on Hill for blocking out of bounds forced Young to start that possession at the 1 and led to a three-and-out.

See the Panthers warm up before their Week 1 matchup with the Atlanta Falcons.

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