The Panthers outlasted the Falcons (4-4) by a score of 20-17 on Sunday in Carolina. Here's what we learned:
- Apparently trading wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin really can save the Panthers running game. The Panthers rushed for 201 yards -- with Cam Newton picking up 86 of those with a touchdown -- in another victory for the 6-3 Panthers where they didn't need to throw the ball well to win. So many of the biggest plays of the game came from Newton's rugged running ability and the read-option plays that come off it, including a walk-in Christian McCaffrey touchdown. McCaffrey's best day on the ground (66 yards) bodes well for an offensive line which won the battle on Sunday.
- Big games often come down to the plays a team doesn't make. Matt Ryan had Julio Jones wide open for a long touchdown on the game's first drive. Ryan overshot him. Jones got deep on a crucial fourth down in the fourth quarter and dropped a similarly wide-open would-be touchdown. Blame offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian all you want, but those are plays that Ryan and Jones would have made a season ago.
- The game turned on Atlanta's inability to pick up short yardage situations. Leading 10-0 in the first half, the Falcons turned the ball over on downs because the Panthers kept winning up front. Later in the game, the Falcons were forced to throw in similar situations to poor effect. This was yet another game where the Falcons looked good for long stretches but it didn't reflect on the scoreboard. (And yet another game where one of Ryan's receivers, this time Austin Hooper, was at fault for an interception.)