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Falcons add to Panthers' many woes

11/24/2002

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Michael Vick scanned Carolina's sideline
and saw heads hanging -- an unmistakable sign of defeat. He pointed
this out to his Atlanta teammates and told them it was time to
pounce.

Question on the Falcons: Everyone's talking about Vick, but clearly they're doing something right on defense -- what is it?
Atlanta's defensive game plan has been right on target. The Falcons have been getting more pressure on the quarterback, which has allowed the cornerbacks to come up with big plays -- not necessarily lots of interceptions, but pass break-ups and strong tackling. The Falcons' D has been able to dictate to the opposing offense rather than the other way around.

Question on the Panthers: Has their defense been worn down due to lack of support from the offense?
I think so. But there's another factor. The Panthers have a good pass rush, but the defensive backfield isn't of the same caliber as the defensive line. That's also contributed to the D wearing down.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

The Falcons did, racking up eight sacks and forcing six
turnovers Sunday in a 41-0 victory over Carolina -- the Panthers'
eighth straight loss.

"It was like 21-0, and the Panthers had this empty look in
their eyes, like they knew it was over and hopeless, and they
weren't coming back,'' Vick said. "We were in the huddle and I
said, 'Let's go out and finish these guys.' ''

Vick's pep talk probably wasn't even necessary.

The Falcons (7-3-1) proved their dominance over Carolina (3-8)
by beating the Panthers for the sixth straight time and ninth time
in the last 10 meetings. Atlanta outscored Carolina 71-0 this
season.

"I think its fairly evident we're not a very good football team
when we play the Atlanta Falcons,'' coach John Fox said.
"Basically, I told (the team) that I was ashamed of our
performance, and they ought to be, too.''

It's the first time that a team has shut out an opponent twice
in the same season since 1976, when Denver blanked San Diego 26-0
and 17-0.

Vick threw for 272 yards and a pair of touchdowns, Warrick Dunn
scored twice and Atlanta had 426 yards of offense. The defense,
meanwhile, had four interceptions and recovered two fumbles.

The outcome was clear so early that Vick was able to spend all
of the fourth quarter celebrating on the sideline, along with new
owner Arthur Blank.

"That was as close to a perfect game as you can possibly
play,'' cornerback Ray Buchanan said. "The defense frustrated them
and kept them from scoring any points. We met our goal of shutting
them out again. And Mike, the Magic Man, had our offense rolling.''

The loss capped a tumultuous week for Carolina's increasingly
troubled franchise.

Starting right tackle Chris Terry was waived after he missed a
court appearance on a misdemeanor charge of assaulting his wife.
Then, leading receiver and All-Pro kick returner Steve Smith was
suspended for beating up teammate Anthony Bright so badly that
Bright was hospitalized two days. Smith was jailed briefly after
Bright filed an assault charge against him.

Fox said the issues were not a distraction, pointing out that
the Falcons beat Carolina 30-0 this season when the Panthers had no
such issues.

But Buchanan said it's impossible for a team not to be affected
by such turmoil. Aside from Terry and Smith, defensive end Brentson
Buckner is serving a four-game suspension for violating the
league's list of banned substances; rookie defensive end Julius
Peppers is appealing his own suspension for violating the same
policy.

"As a veteran player, I know that stuff gets inside a team's
head,'' Buchanan said. "They don't have their players out there,
Peppers is distracted by his own deal ... it's just too much to
overcome.''

Carolina struggled behind all three of its quarterbacks and
managed just 122 total yards, 10 first downs and had the ball just
over 20 minutes.

"I am embarrassed for the owners, for all the fans, for my
family that comes every week,'' Panthers receiver Muhsin Muhammad
said. "I am embarrassed for everyone who supports us.''

The Panthers were overmatched from the start of this one, and a
flurry of mistakes didn't help their effort.

Keion Carpenter was all alone when he intercepted Rodney Peete
and returned it 41 yards for a 7-0 Atlanta lead.

Carolina turned the ball over two plays later when Brad Hoover
caught a 33-yard pass from Peete while streaking down the middle of
the field. But Buchanan caught Hoover from behind and poked the
ball free; Atlanta's Matt Stewart recovered.

Vick didn't wait long to strike, tossing a 31-yard TD pass to
Dunn for a 14-0 lead.

The second quarter was more of the same Carolina nightmare.

Peete was sacked on consecutive plays, and the Panthers punted.
Atlanta drove down the field to take a 21-0 lead on Dunn's 5-yard
touchdown run.

Carolina's next possession ended after Peete was sacked three
times in five plays.

"We're not the type of football team that, when we turn the
ball over and they score, we come back from that,'' safety Mike
Minter said. "That is the reality of what we have, and we just
have to play smarter than this.''

Game notes
The Falcons hadn't scored a shutout in nine years before
they beat the Panthers 30-0 last month. ... Carolina linebacker Dan
Morgan, in his first game back after missing two with a groin
injury, dislocated his shoulder and will be out next week. ...
Referee Phil Luckett missed a stretch of plays during the game with
a hamstring injury.