- Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula called arguably his best game of the year, getting Christian McCaffrey into the end zone for his first rushing TD this season and knocking off the Falcons.
CHARLOTTE — Three quick thoughts off Carolina’s 20–17 win against Atlanta.
1. When the Panthers drafted Christian McCaffrey with the No. 8 pick and promised to revamp the offense, the biggest question was whether offensive coordinator Mike Shula had the creative juices to make it work. He’s taken his lumps this season, but Shula called his best game of the year on Sunday.
The Panthers had just one three-and-out all day (the first drive) and even had two drives stalled in Falcons’ territory due to Jonathan Stewart fumbles. But that didn’t deter Shula from cracking open the playbook—perhaps it emboldened him. McCaffrey got his first career rushing touchdown on a nifty pitch from Newton that allowed the rookie to walk in the end zone. There was a fake throw from Newton that went for an end-around to rookie Curtis Samuel, who should be getting more involved now that Kelvin Benjamin isn’t in town anymore. And in the third quarter he called for a reverse from Stewart to Russell Shepard that went for a first down.
2. How does Julio Jones drop that? The player I consider to be the best receiver in the game has to haul in that would-be 39-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan midway through the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-seven and down 20–10, Dan Quinn figured there wasn’t enough time for two scores if they punted away. Maligned (probably a little unfairly) offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian called a play that got Jones wide open in the end zone. Ryan absorbed his biggest hit of the day from Star Lotulelei after throwing it and dropped it just over Jones’s right shoulder, but Jones bobbled it while sliding and it fell to the ground. Plenty has been made about Jones, who had 118 yards on the day, not getting the ball more often, especially in the red zone, but that’s a catch that has to be made.
3. Everyone got the NFC South wrong. According to many—and I am very much included in that many—this was going to be the season the Bucs took the next step. New Orleans would be on life support. Atlanta had all its pieces still in place from a Super Bowl season and a young defense getting older. And Carolina’s experimental offense probably wouldn’t work out.
At 4–4 the Falcons remain hungover from February. The Bucs’ season is done at 2–6. The Saints are suddenly a juggarnat and the Panthers have never missed the playoffs after beginning the season with at least six wins in the first nine games. Goes to show you what we know.