CHARLOTTE – Despite the Panthers' loss at snowy Green Bay last week, many saw signs of progress from quarterback Kyle Allen. On Sunday, that positivity was buried in a pile of interceptions.
Allen tossed four picks against the Falcons, who had totaled just four takeaways in their previous nine games this season. Those were a league-low. So were their two interceptions. It took them less than 30 minutes to exceed that number against Allen.
"Three interceptions in the first half puts us in a horrible position," he admitted.
Allen's first mistake came on Carolina's first possession. Facing a third-and-4 from his 31-yard line, Allen felt pressure almost immediately after the snap. At that moment, he appeared to think about throwing 15 yards downfield to DJ Moore. But as Allen was getting dragged down by defensive end Takk McKinley, the ball traveled 5 yards and into the hands of linebacker De' Vondre Campbell.
The Falcons failed to turn that takeaway into points, but early in the second quarter, another Allen mistake took potential points off the board for the Panthers.
Down 10-0, Carolina drove 60 yards on 11 plays to set itself up with a second-and-10 from the Atlanta 15. Like his red-zone interception a week ago in Green Bay, Allen had room to run as he was flushed out of the pocket. But he threw into the end zone for what he thought was an open receiver, and instead of connecting with Moore, the pass was undercut by cornerback Desmond Trufant.
"I just have to take what's there for us," Allen said. "It was the same thing as the Green Bay game. I either have to get the ball down or run it. I have to take these things as learning experiences and understand that I can't make these same mistakes because it ends up with us losing the game."
All wasn't lost just yet, even though the Panthers' deficit had swelled to 20 late in the second quarter. That's because they were in position to grab points before the half. Do that, get the ball to start the third quarter, and you never know.
But those first-half points never came.
With 17 seconds left in the second quarter, Allen dropped back from the Atlanta 22. He had Moore open inside the Atlanta 10, but the ball sailed to safety Ricardo Allen for the Falcons' third interception of the opening half.
"It just kind of snowballed on him," tight end Greg Olsen said of Kyle Allen. "It's tough. When you have a game like that offensively where you score 3 points, any guy who stepped on the field offensively shares in that blame.
"Obviously, quarterbacks always are the focal point, and that's just the way the league is. But anybody who played offense for us today did a bad job. To score 3 points in this league at home is pretty bad."
Only once before in the Ron Rivera era had the Panthers scored just 3 points at home. That was against Tennessee in 2011 during Cam Newton's ninth career start. Allen's ninth career start came Sunday.
"I'm not concerned with Kyle's learning curve. What I'm concerned about is his growing pains," Rivera said. "He is a young quarterback who is going to make young mistakes."
But that reasoning isn't going to make the 23-year-old feel any better.
"I said this last week: It doesn't matter how old I am or how many starts I have," Allen said. "This is a really good football team, and if I keep turning the ball over, it's not putting us in position to win."
After throwing a fourth interception late in the fourth quarter, Allen now has nine in his past four starts. That's quite the departure from when he threw none in his first five starts. But that earlier stretch showed he's capable of playing a clean game.
Perhaps Allen is trying to do too much. Maybe defenses are taking advantage of having a bigger tape collection. Whatever the case, Allen has to take better care of the ball. He could also use more help from his offensive line and some takeaways from a streaky defense.
The Panthers are 5-5, and you don't have to drill deep to find the biggest reason why the results are split. In their five wins, they have a plus-11 turnover ratio. In their five losses, that number is negative-11.
"Turnovers are not going to give us any chance to win. So my decision making has to be better," Allen said.
"I think that's the main thing of why we are not winning these games is because the turnover differential is not in our favor in the last four games or so. It's like I said, I am not putting the team in a position to win by turning the ball over."
View photos from Week 11 as Carolina hosts Atlanta.