Panthers pile up yards, but still lose
Despite passing for over 300 yards, the Panthers came up empty against the Falcons.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- New Orleans, the city, is known as the Big Easy. The Atlanta Falcons defense should be called the Big Tease.
How else can you explain the frustrations of the Carolina Panthers and quarterback Jake Delhomme. Statistically, Delhomme exceeded expections. He completed 23 of 38 passes. He passed for 308 yards. He had a 34-yard pass to fullback Brad Hoover, who's known more for his dented face masks than his hands. He hit Muhsin Muhammad seven times for 114 yards. Even DeShaun Foster caught a 42-yard pass.
But yards are apparently deceiving playing the Falcons. The Panthers scored only 10 points and lost, 27-10, at home.
"It's disappointing," Delhomme said. "We turned the ball over early in the game and again in the third quarter going in. Keith Brooking made a great play on tipping the ball. (Safety Bryan Scott grabbed the pick). We were moving the ball but we didn't score any points."
When it comes to pass defense, the Falcons are indeed a tease. Coming into the game, opponents were completing 69.7 percent of their passes. Quarterback ratings against them were 92.6 coming into the game.
Despite that, the defense has given up only five touchdowns in four games. Opponents have scored only 49 points against them. What gives?
"I've always felt like pass yards are empty yards," Falcons coach Jim Mora said. "I've just never been concerned about that, and I'm a defensive back coach by nature. It shows you are controlling the game, you are winning the game and they are having to throw it. I think yards are the most overrated statistic in football. I'll take points over yards. I think every coach in football would agree with me."
Mora said last week after Atlanta's 3-0 start that allowing opponents to complete 70 percent of their passes was no big deal because they play so much zone.
"They play some man to man, but they play off, and I was getting some matchups we were taking advantage of," Muhammad said. "Anytime you can get some smaller corners on you, you got to take advantage."
Muhammad is 6-2 and he was working on Kevin Mathis, who is 5-9. In the first half alone, Muhammad had 89 yards on four catches, including a 34- and a 23-yard catching over Mathis during the Panthers' only touchdown drive.
Foster scored from the 1 in the first quarter to tie the score at 7-7.
But while the Falcons will give up yards through the air, they've been nasty along the defensive line. They have great pass rushers. Patrick Kerney is on fire with a league-leading seven sacks, including two against the Panthers. Defensive tackle Rod Coleman has three sacks from the inside. End Brady Smith is a three-sack guy. That pressure forces turnovers and the Panthers had three Sunday, including two deep in Falcons territory.
"I think turnovers are bad anywhere," Panthers coach John Fox said. "We've had that problem in two games that we lost and not in the one that we've won. It's something we've got to clean up and do a better job with. I take full responsibility for that. It's something we have to get better at."
Overall, the Panthers outgained the Falcons, 360-313. If you would have told Fox he'd have a quarterback throw for 308 yards in a game that was 13-10 well into the third quarter, he'd believe he'd win big.
That wasn't the case Sunday.
"I think they are a very good defense," Delhomme said. "I always felt that they play hard up front. Give them credit. They caused some turnovers today that helped them."
The Panthers defense was equally frustrated. Though they held Michael Vick to only 10 completions for 148 yards, they were dominated on the ground. The Falcons had 40 rushes for 165 yards, and the Panthers proud defense was worn down at the end.
"We wanted to come in and establish the run game," Falcons halfback T.J. Duckett said. "The offensive linemen's eyes just lit up as the game was going on. They love having a game like this. Warrick Dunn and I thrive off of them, and just run behind them." It didn't help that linebacker Mark Fields played only one series because of back spasms. His replacement was Brandon Short, who isn't as quick and doesn't have as much range as Fields. They lost kick returner Rod Smart with a knee injury. His status is uncertain.
Worse, the Panthers just can't seem to do anything against the Falcons when Vick is in the lineup. Now, they trail in the division by two-and-a-half games and they are 0-2 at home.
Talk about empty passing yards.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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