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Carolina Panthers

Strickly Panthers: Defenseless


ATLANTA - In a season filled with close losses decided in the fourth quarter, it's easy to focus on the offense's inability to come up with points to pull it out.

But in four of five losses – including Sunday's 31-17 setback at Atlanta – it's easy to forget that the Panthers would have won if the opposition hadn't scored any fourth-quarter points.

"The defense, we didn't play up to our potential," defensive end Charles Johnson said after the Panthers surrendered 17 fourth-quarter points. "We're not doing what we're supposed to do. We're not doing our fundamentals, not doing a lot of stuff right.

"We've got to get to the drawing board and fix it real quick."

After the game, one in which Atlanta's offense converted 7- of-11 third downs, defensive-minded head coach Ron Rivera suggested that he'll look at possibly rearranging some things on the drawing board.

"I think we've got to look at the defense that we're playing, the players that are doing it and how we can better maximize our personnel," Rivera said. "I'll get a chance to evaluate that, to sit down with (defensive coordinator) Sean (McDermott) and the rest of the defensive coaches. We'll make decisions in terms of who plays and what we're playing."

The Panthers were handcuffed at times Sunday by an injury situation at safety. Starter Sherrod Martin, slowed during the week by an illness, "emptied his tank" as Rivera put it in the first half and had to sit out the second half. The Panthers went to Jordan Pugh, but Pugh suffered a head injury that pressed Jermale Hines, who joined the team on Oct. 4 and missed practice Thursday and Friday with an illness, into action.

The injury concerns run much deeper than that in the big picture, with top linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis out of the season, as well as potential anchor Ron Edwards at defensive tackle.

That, however, has to be treated as old news at this juncture.

"We've been through training camp and through a period that's probably equal to what OTAs and mini-camps were," Rivera said. "We've had a full offseason; now it's time to play and not make these kind of mistakes."


In the passing game, the defense's mistakes took the form of penalties. The Panthers limited quarterback Matt Ryan to 163 yards through the air, though he did become the fourth quarterback this season to post a quarterback rating of more than 100.0 against the Panthers. Ryan and Co. benefited enormously from a pair of pass interference penalties that totaled 59 yards but more importantly put the Falcons on the 1-yard line in each case to set up their first-half touchdowns.

Wide receiver Roddy White was held to two catches for 21 yards, but he drew both penalties, the first one committed by safety Charles Godfrey.

"I thought I played it well, but those are calls that they're going to make," Godfrey said. "Those were really the only big plays we gave up in the passing game, except for a couple of third downs. We had to bounce back."

In the run game, the defense's mistakes were to the benefit of Panthers nemesis Michael Turner, who rushed for a season-high 139 yards and two touchdowns – his fifth 100-yard effort in seven games against the Panthers since he joined the Falcons in 2008.

"In this defense, everybody has to be in their gap in order for it to work. If one person is out of their gap, a running back will take advantage of that," Godfrey said. "We have to be sound on defense. All 11 have to be in their gap so that doesn't happen."

The defense took its share of lumps Sunday, but left tackle Jordan Gross was quick to point out that there's plenty of blame to go around.

"No phases really did well enough," Gross said. "We turned the ball over a couple of times, the defense gave up some big plays and special teams didn't really do anything big either way.

"We talked all week about when it's time to win – when you get in the red zone and when you get into the fourth quarter – and we didn't do either one very well."

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