Installment #3: Back At It Again
Tonight's the night! That's right. My Carolina Panthers are back at it again when they take on the Atlanta Falcons in a Thursday night football game in Charlotte. I don't think that there will be much more than 5200 fans at Bank of America Stadium due to COVID-19 regulations. But there will no doubt be tens of thousands watching and listening from the comfort of their homes. As for me, I'll be listening to the game on the Carolina Panthers Radio Network via SiriusXM. I'm excited! Especially since this is the lone prime-time game this year for my favorite football team. I'm hoping against hope that they do not disappoint.
Both teams suffered close losses last week. The Panthers lost a tight one to the New Orleans Saints 27-24 in a game in which quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints offense made good on twelve out of fourteen of their first downs and piled up over 400 total yards. The Atlanta Falcons are coming off a tough defeat where they were edged in the last seconds by the Detroit Lions 23-22. So I'm sure that both teams will be desperate for a win. Not to mention, this is a division game for the Panthers and the Falcons and they are hated rivals. No matter the wins and losses, this game is always a grudge match between these two NFC South ball clubs.
There are some lingering injuries on the Carolina Panthers' side of things. First-string running back Christian McCaffrey, who has missed the last five games with a high ankle sprain, was designated for return from the injured reserve list on Tuesday. It is unclear to me whether or not McCaffrey will play tonight. Mike Davis, who struggled a bit in the game against the Saints, is dealing with an ankle injury of his own. Pro bowl defensive tackle Kawann Short is out for the season and rookie defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos will miss tonight's game as he remains on the injured reserve list. Offensive tackle Russell Okung is doubtful.
The first time the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons met in Week 5 in the ATL, the Falcons did not have their all-pro wide receiver Julio Jones. Jones will be available tonight and along with wideout Calvin Ridley, those two are sure to give Carolina's young secondary fits. It doesn't happen much but hopefully one of these young players (either third-year cornerback Donte Jackson or rookie Troy Pride Jr.) will step up and get the uncommon but not impossible interception on the always dangerous quarterback Matt Ryan. That would be great!
The Carolina Panthers hold a 3-4 record after seven games. Their head coach Matt Rhule is a first-year coach in the National Football League and their defense is full of rookies, second, and third-year players with a couple of veterans sprinkled in. Yet, they have continued to be competitive in every single game this season, even the most recent two-straight losses. The defense has allowed the thirteenth-least points in the NFL, so not a complete disaster. On the offensive side of the ball, Teddy Bridgewater is playing better than expected, completing 72 percent of his passes. Wideouts like DJ Moore, Robbie Anderson, and Curtis Samuel continue to produce and make plays.
Sure they have made their share of mistakes, but overall, I am thus far satisfied with what the Panthers have been able to do this year, despite expectations. They seem to never give up and they refuse to believe or concede that this is a rebuilding season, which as a fan I appreciate. Matt Rhule seems to genuinely believe in those players, and they in turn seem to want to play for him. This team continuity, makes me proud to root for them. I'm sure there are some others in Panther Nation that feel the same way I do.
The Atlanta Falcons (1-6) are most likely headed for the basement of the NFC South when all is said and done in 2020. They have also just recently fired head coach Dan Quinn after a 0-5 start. But they have always been a dangerous opponent for the Panthers and historically, the Panthers have not performed well under the bright lights of prime-time. Their prime-time resume makes me a little nervous but I believe that this game, like most games between these two rivals, will be close late in the fourth quarter and the Panthers will once again be in a great position to pull off the win. It would be good to get this victory tonight. After that, the Panthers play the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 9 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 10. The Chiefs are defending Super Bowl champions and the Buccs look like they have a great shot to win it all this year. So come on Cardiac Cats! Give a blind brother something to be happy about before those mammoth games.