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Carolina needs pick-me-up

CHARLOTTE — It took a few fights to break out and a fumble for Carolina to show any energy Sunday against Atlanta. Until that point, the Panthers had only three points on the board and looked like they were heading for their second dismal loss in less than a week.

People will blame the loss on kicker Graham Gano for missing a potential game-winning field goal from 46 yards out with 1 minute, 22 seconds left in the game. The ball was wide left by just a few feet. He even seemed to blame himself.

“It’s painful. I’ve got to make the kick,” he said “I’m the place kicker here. I obviously wish I could have it back, but I’ve got to put it through the uprights.”

It wasn’t him though. He missed the field goal, sure. But that doesn’t mean the offense wasn’t unproductive in the first half and the defense wasn’t relied upon once again to keep the game close.

It was with Carolina’s defense on the field and a penalty amid the skirmishes before the stadium started to come to life.

With Atlanta ahead 16-3 in the third quarter and driving to potentially put away the game, Falcons receiver Devin Hester was whistled for unnecessary roughness after piling on Carolina cornerback Josh Norman while he was going at it with Falcons receiver Harry Douglas. That negated a four-yard run by Steven Jackson. The ball went from the Carolina 23 back to the Carolina 42.

Hester fumbled two plays later on a hard hit by Thomas Davis. It was recovered by linebacker Luke Kuechly, and a Panthers’ win was suddenly a possibility.

“It got the crowd back into it,” Kuechly said. “I think it brought some energy to the whole team and that is what you need. You need energy.”

That was lacking for the Panthers in the first half. The defense certainly did its part by not giving up the big play. The offense did not do its part after holding the ball for the final nine minutes of the first quarter and settling for a 23-yard field goal by Gano on the first play of the second quarter.

That was as close as the Panthers got to the end zone for the first 48:48 of the game. Kelvin Benjamin’s circus catch on a 22-yard touchdown pass cut Carolina’s deficit to 16-10 at the 9:12 mark in the fourth quarter.

Carolina held a 17-16 lead when Newton hooked up with Philly Brown for a 47-yard scoring strike.

Still, that was not enough to make up for a half of limited production and no energy.

“It feels if (on offense) we would have played better (Sunday), we wouldn’t have been in that position,” quarterback Cam Newton said. “Hindsight is 50/50. You can say this and say that about whatever didn’t go our way. The truth of the matter is we have to play with a sense of urgency and take on our responsibility.”

The Panthers have two weeks to find that urgency. The Panthers have a bye this week and then a week to prepare for a road game at Minnesota.

Despite the losing streak and the lackluster performance for most of Sunday, there is a silver lining behind the clouds that hung over Bank of America Stadium on a chilly, gray November afternoon. The Panthers, winless in their last six games, still have a chance at the NFC South title.

The Falcons and Saints — both at 4-6 — are tied for the division lead with Carolina (3-7-1) only a half-game behind. There is still a chance.

“It’s a crazy situation,” safety Thomas DeCoud said.




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