CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Scott Fowler//The Charlotte Observer) - The Carolina Panthers played so poorly in a 29-3 loss against Atlanta on Sunday at home that they were booed off the field by many of their own fans at halftime.
What else went wrong as the Panthers dropped to 5-5 for the season and were dealt a huge blow to their playoff hopes with their third loss in the past four games?
Here are 10 lowlights:
1) Kyle Allen. While serviceable and sometimes very good for most of his first seven starts with the Panthers in 2019, Allen was awful in this one against the underdog Falcons (3-7). He had three nasty red-zone interceptions, each robbing Carolina of at least a field goal. And he also had a fourth interception — on the Panthers’ first possession of the game when he was trying to throw the ball away — to set a regrettable tone. Jake Delhomme once threw five interceptions in a Carolina playoff game, but Allen’s four picks tied a franchise record for the most picks in a Carolina regular-season game.
Given that the Falcons don’t have nearly as good a defense as San Francisco and this game was being played in Charlotte, this was undoubtedly the worst performance of Allen’s young NFL career, one week after the best.
2) Offensive line. The Panthers looked very overmatched many times against Atlanta’s pass rush. With the Falcons only rushing four players on nearly every play, Greg Little, Taylor Moton and Daryl Williams were all beaten for first-half sacks, and Trai Turner was called for an illegal chop block that erased a good gain. Little, the rookie coming back from a concussion, also had a key holding penalty and allowed another sack in the third quarter while struggling at left tackle. Allen was also sacked five times and attributed his many mistakes to “poor decision-making.”
3) Drops. While a lot of things can and rightfully will be blamed on Allen on Sunday, he wasn’t helped by a couple of plays by his receivers and one in particular.
Rarely used backup tailback Reggie Bonnafon had an egregious dropped pass on a seam route in the first quarter on a play that would have gained at least 30 yards. And it was also notable that McCaffrey — who didn’t have a single drop in the entire 2018 season and generally played well in this game as usual — couldn’t corral one short pass that hit his hands as well.
4) Kuechly vs. Julio. Suffice it to say the Panthers don’t want linebacker Luke Kuechly, as good as he is, covering Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones 40 yards down the field by himself. That happened late in the second quarter and, not surprisingly, resulted in Jones catching the ball over Kuechly’s head for a 48-yard gain that set up a touchdown.
Kuechly said the mistake he made on the play was never turning around, while linebacker Bruce Irvin attributed it to “Julio making a Julio play.” It’s a good place to note here that the Panthers defense came up with no turnovers for the second game in a row.
5) Atlanta’s picks. The Falcons had only two interceptions in their first nine games. They ended up with twice that many in a single game Sunday, making several acrobatic plays among their four interceptions of Allen.
6) Matt Ryan. Atlanta’s veteran quarterback is now 7-1 in his past eight starts against the Panthers. Ryan basically had the Panthers beaten by halftime after throwing for 215 yards in a first half where the Falcons led, 20-0. He’s now 15-8 in his career vs. Carolina and ended up with 311 passing yards.
7) Kenjon Barner. The Panthers have employed Barner a couple of times before, including after drafting him in the sixth round in 2013, and he has teased them with his potential. But Barner has always done his best work on other teams (in Philadelphia and now Atlanta) after the Panthers cut him. His 78-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter gave the Falcons a 10-0 lead. It was always at least a two-possession game from then on.
8) Third-down conversions. Carolina was terrible on the game’s key down when it mattered early, going only 1-for-8 on third downs in the first half as the Falcons built that 20-0 halftime lead. They ended up 2-for-14.
9) Defensive secondary. Too often the Falcon receivers were running free by 5 yards, as the Panthers secondary got exposed time after time.