The calendar might flip, but the script remains the same. Faced with a fourth-and-1 red-zone dilemma early in the second quarter, "Riverboat Ron" stuck to his newfound mantra that touchdowns are better than field goals. The ensuing 14-yard play-action touchdown pass to Greg Olsen gave the Panthers a 14-3 lead, and they never looked back.
Here's what else we learned in Sunday's game:
- After Julio Jones was lost for the season, we wondered on the "Around The League Podcast" if Matt Ryan might face plant the rest of the way. Although Ryan has been a top-six quarterback this season, he's now thrown at least three interceptions in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. Even with Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas playing well, Ryan desperately needs a healthy Roddy White back in the lineup.
- Newton had his first two turnovers in three weeks, but still turned in an efficient performance while showing Ben Roethlisberger-esque escapability in the pocket. He's played the best ball of his career over the past month.
- Credit Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman for exploiting the second and third waves of free agency. Faced with salary-cap restrictions, Gettleman has gotten significant contributions from wide receiver Ted Ginn, left guard Travelle Wharton, linebacker Chase Blackburn and starting safeties Quintin Mikell and Mike Mitchell.