Grading the Carolina Panthers for Sunday’s game against Atlanta.
B+ Quarterback: Cam Newton led the Panthers in rushing for the fourth game in a row, racking up 86 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. Newton willed his way into the end zone for a 9-yard score and made a nice option pitch to Christian McCaffrey for the Panthers’ other touchdowns.
C Running backs: Grading individually, McCaffrey gets an A and Jonathan Stewart an F, thus the C. McCaffrey tallied 94 yards from scrimmage, setting career highs with 15 carries and 66 receiving yards and scoring his first rushing TD. Stewart lost a pair of first-quarter fumbles – the first two-fumble game of his career.
C Receivers: Devin Funchess and Curtis Samuel were the only wide receivers who caught passes in the first game after the Panthers dealt Kevin Benjamin. Funchess had gains of 24 and 33 yards, picking up yards after the catch on each. Samuel and Russell Shepard both had runs that went for first downs.
B+ Offensive line: The Panthers’ line, playing without injured center Ryan Kalil again, led the way for the first 200-yard rushing game since a victory over Philadelphia in 2015. The front five also allowed Newton to be sacked only once and hit three times.
B Defensive line: Wes Horton and Mario Addison had the Panthers’ only sacks vs. Falcons QB Matt Ryan – on successive plays at the end of the third quarter. Kawann Short had two hits on Ryan, and DE Julius Peppers dropped 15 yards in coverage during the Falcons’ final series.
B Linebackers: Luke Kuechly finished with a team-high 11 tackles – and a bloody nose. Thomas Davis added five tackles, and did a nice job knocking Julio Jones off his route on the Falcons’ fourth-down play near the end of the game.
C Secondary: Ryan threw for 313 yards and two TDs, and Jones became the first WR to finish with 100 yards receiving vs. Carolina. The Panthers got a huge break on Jones’ drop in the end zone. S Mike Adams, who bit on the fake on the Jones’ drop, had an interception for the second week in a row. Kurt Coleman had 10 tackles, including a big hit on Devonta Freeman during the final series.
B+ Special teams: Michael Palardy continues to be a field-position weapon. The left-footer averaged 49.8 yards (with a 47.2-yard net) on five punts, three of which were inside the Falcons’ 20. Graham Gano made two third-quarter field goals. His only missed FG is a 55-yarder in Detroit.
B Coaching: Mike Shula negated the Falcons’ defensive speed with misdirection runs for Newton, McCaffrey and the WRs. Steve Wilks’ aggressiveness led to a couple of big plays on the Falcons’ late TD drive. But the staff deserves credit for righting the ship during the critical two-game stretch vs. division foes.