NFC South Spin cycle: Week Four

Dan Parr
Pro Football Weekly
NFC South Spin cycle: Falcons cross one hurdle

For the second week in a row, the Falcons are the only NFC South team celebrating a victory on Monday, as the Panthers, Saints and Buccaneers all suffered narrow defeats in Week Four.


What we learned: The Falcons will not crumble if they are trailing late in a game. Sunday was a new challenge for this Falcons team — they had yet to fall behind prior to the Week Four meeting against the Panthers. Atlanta kept fighting back. They blew a 10-point third-quarter lead and were down by four when they took over on offense with less than eight minutes left in the game. There’s no doubt they had help from the Panthers — a Cam Newton fumble that cost them a first down, a conservative coaching decision from Ron Rivera, who decided to punt instead of go for it on 4th-and-short, and some terrible coverage in the secondary all aided Atlanta — but the Falcons showed resiliency we had yet to see from them this season in their 30-28 win.

What’s in store next: The 4-0 Falcons will travel to face rookie QB Robert Griffin III and the Redskins in Week Five. Washington is 2-2 after beating the Buccaneers on a late field goal in Tampa Bay. The mobility of Panthers QB Cam Newton gave Atlanta’s defense a lot of problems Sunday and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s defense faces another stiff test against a quarterback that can make plays with his arm and his legs in RG3.

What the heck? The Falcons made the Panthers’ pass rush — which appeared nonexistent vs. the Giants in Week Three — look like the league’s best. QB Matt Ryan, who was sacked only four times in the first three games, was sacked seven times and hit five other times on Sunday. Some of those were coverage sacks, as Ryan — who had done such a great job of getting rid of the ball to avoid sacks in the first three games — was less decisive vs. Carolina.


What we learned: The Panthers can bounce back from a deflating loss. Yes, they came up short Sunday and could have won the game if not for some critical late-game miscues, but there really is no shame in losing to the undefeated Falcons at the Georgia Dome on a late field goal. Carolina put up a fight, which was much more than any of us could say about the team after its Week Three blowout loss to the Giants. The Panthers are not finishers yet. They still are trying to learn how to win these types of games.

What’s in store next: Carolina will host its third home game in four weeks when the 2-2 Seahawks, who really should be 1-3, travel to Bank of America stadium in Week Five. The Panthers are badly in need of a win to give themselves some positive reinforcement heading into a Week Six bye.

What the heck? Head coach Ron Rivera has the luxury of a 6-5, 245-pound quarterback that also happens to be one of the best rushing quarterbacks the league has ever seen. Yet, he kept his best weapon in his holster late in the game. Rivera is deservedly being second-guessed for punting on 4th-and-1 instead of going for the first down with 1:09 left and the ball placed at Atlanta’s 45-yard line. We know Newton fumbled on the previous play, but he had also rushed for a career-high 86 yards Sunday, and one more yard would have ended the game and given the Panthers a huge win.


What we learned: The Saints are a much better team than their 0-4 record suggests. They gave the Packers — another team that is better than its 2-2 record suggests — a scare, and the Saints may have left Lambeau Field with a victory if not for a holding penalty that nullified a 43-yard go-ahead field goal and PK Garrett Hartley’s subsequent miss from 48 yards out after an encroachment penalty by the Packers. Sunday was the Saints’ finest performance of the season, but they came up just short in a 28-27 loss.

What’s in store next: They will return home to host QB Drew Brees’ former team, the Chargers, who are in first place in the AFC West at 3-1 after a comfortable road win over the Chiefs in Week Four. Kansas City basically handed San Diego that win — the Chiefs turned the ball over six times on Sunday.

What the heck? We are guessing here, but this probably does not happen often — the Saints have a turnover ratio of plus-four in their past two games, yet they have lost both of them. It has just been that kind of season for the Saints. The kind of season where Brees throws for 446 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, as he did Sunday, and it still is not enough for a win. New Orleans took good care of the ball vs. the Chiefs (one turnover) in Week Three and was even more careful with it vs. the Packers (no turnovers). They have taken the ball away five times in the past two games, but the Saints don’t have a win to show for it.


What we learned: The Bucs fight back. They played a terrible first half and were down 21-6 heading into the break, but whatever head coach Greg Schiano said to his team in the locker room at halftime, it worked wonders. The Bucs scored 16 straight points to take the lead with 1:42 to play. The defense could not hold up, though, and Washington took the lead back on a 41-yard field goal with three seconds left in Tampa Bay’s 24-22 loss.

What’s in store next: The Bucs get a chance to catch their breath after suffering three hard-fought losses in a row to NFC East teams. They have a bye in Week Five and have two home games in a row against the struggling Chiefs and Saints — who have one win between them (the Chiefs beat the Saints in Week Three) — when they return.

What the heck? Tampa Bay has to be wondering what might have been if QB Josh Freeman had played anywhere close to as well as he did in the second half during the first two quarters. The first half for Freeman Sunday: 13-of-22 for 88 yards, no TDs, one interception. Second half: 11-of-17 for 211 yards, one TD, no interceptions. Jekyll-and-Hyde performances are not going to help Freeman prove he is the long-term answer under center for the Bucs.